Terrorist Organizations

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Terrorist organizations have long threatened the security, infrastructure, and citizens of nations and communities throughout the world. Since the early 1970s, RAND has explored the structure and activities of terrorist organizations—most recently al Qaeda and its offshoots—to understand their motivations, their recruitment and training methods, and why some are more successful than others.

  • A New York City fireman calls for 10 more rescue workers to make their way into the rubble of the World Trade Center on September 15, 2001, photo by JO1 Preston Keres/U.S. Navy

    Commentary

    ISIS vs. Al Qaida: Battle of the Terrorist Brands

    Aug 16, 2016

    Rather than thinking of defeating terrorists solely in traditional military terms, it might make sense to think of bankrupting them. It might help to consider the factors that cause luxury brands to lose their luster or big box retailers to fail.

  • Iraqi soldiers fire a rocket toward Islamic State militants on the outskirts of the Makhmour south of Mosul, Iraq, March 25, 2016, photo by Azad Lashkari/Reuters

    Content

    How to Roll Back ISIL and Other Terrorist Threats

    Sep 30, 2016

    ISIL is the most active group among Salafi-jihadists, waging a wide campaign. Defeating the group will require moving it from a quasi-state to an insurgency to a suppressed movement that controls little or no territory or population.

Explore Terrorist Organizations

  • People walk in front of the remains of the University of Mosul, which was burned and destroyed during a battle with Islamic State militants, in Mosul, Iraq, April 10, 2017.

    Commentary

    Moving Beyond Mosul

    The Islamic State group has been defeated in Mosul. But this military routing isn't enough to ensure lasting stability, either in Mosul or in Iraq more broadly. What comes next will require careful planning, diplomacy, implementation, and coordination.

    Jul 18, 2017

  • Members of al Qaeda's Nusra Front ride on a pickup truck mounted with an anti-aircraft weapon in Ariha, Syria, May 29, 2015

    Testimony

    How Al-Qaida Could Resurge

    Several factors may impact al-Qaida's rise or decline over the next several years. Most of these are outside of al-Qaida's control, but much would depend on how al-Qaida or similar groups responded to them.

    Jul 13, 2017

  • A member of Iraqi security forces holds an Islamic State flag on the top of a destroyed building from clashes in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq, July 10, 2017

    Testimony

    The Terrorist Diaspora: After the Fall of the Caliphate

    As operations against ISIS in Mosul conclude, militants are likely already fleeing—and preparing to wage jihad elsewhere. How can the United States identify and mitigate the threat posed by these foreign fighters?

    Jul 13, 2017

  • Rebel fighters walk out from a cave that was used by Islamic State militants, after they captured the area from them, on the outskirts of the northern town of al-Bab, Syria, February 2, 2017

    Multimedia

    The Evolving Terrorist Threat

    As ISIS loses territory in Iraq and Syria, are terrorist attacks more likely or less? How is the group evolving? What about al-Qa'ida? To answer these questions, RAND convened a group of terrorism experts.

    Jul 12, 2017

  • A tank belonging to special forces of the Libyan army enters the area of clashes with Islamist militants in their last stronghold in Benghazi, Libya, July 5, 2017

    Commentary

    How the Gulf Row Could Tear Libya Apart Even Further

    Since Gadhafi was removed from power, Gulf nations have been vying for position in Libya through proxy forces to influence political outcomes. Libya's rival militias — armed and funded by their respective Gulf sponsors — set the framework for the civil conflict that erupted in 2014 and continues today. Current tensions between Qatar and its neighbors are adding to the instability.

    Jul 7, 2017

  • Iraqi soldiers pose with the Islamic State flag in al-Shura, Iraq, which they recaptured on October 30, 2016

    Blog

    Vickers, Crocker, Bergen, and Mudd Headline RAND ISIS Conference

    Panelists at a RAND conference on ISIS agreed that efforts to protect the U.S. homeland and conduct campaigns to dismantle extremist groups have had success. But many long-term challenges to the broader world order remain that will require strategic patience.

    Jul 6, 2017

  • The Grand al-Nuri Mosque where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a new caliphate in July 2014 is seen in ruins after it was retaken by Iraqi forces from Islamic State militants, June 30, 2017

    Commentary

    Can the Islamic State Survive If Baghdadi Is Dead?

    If and when self-declared Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is killed, it will have little effect on the threat posed by the Islamic State to global security. The far more important objective is to continue dismantling the organization as a whole, including its affiliates in Libya, Egypt, Nigeria, and Afghanistan.

    Jun 30, 2017

  • Afghan local police (ALP) sit at the back of a truck near a frontline during a battle with the Taliban at Qalay-i-zal district, in Kunduz province, Afghanistan August 1, 2015

    Commentary

    Trump's Options for Afghanistan: Losing or Not Losing

    The Trump administration faces the choice of losing quickly by withdrawing from Afghanistan; losing slowly by maintaining America's current, inadequate commitment; or not losing by increasing that commitment enough to maintain a stalemate on the battlefield.

    Jun 23, 2017

  • Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi speaking at the al-Nuri mosque in Mosul, July 5, 2014

    Commentary

    Is ISIS Leader Baghdadi Still Alive?

    The Russian military announced that it might have killed the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in an airstrike in Raqqa. Would his death weaken the group or will ISIS continue to adapt, evolve, and expand like al Qaeda did?

    Jun 22, 2017

  • A Kurdish fighter from the People's Protection Units watches smoke rise after a coalition airstrike in Raqqa, Syria, June 16, 2017

    Commentary

    The Islamic State's Disposable Army

    To leaders of the Islamic State group, murder of its own and collective suicide are keys to its defense strategy. The group targets malcontents and the most suggestible, knowing they are desperate to belong to something and willing to die for it.

    Jun 20, 2017

  • Chemical experts inspect the site of a suicide truck bomb attack at a petrol station in Hilla, Iraq, November 25, 2016

    Commentary

    Can We Predict Where Terrorists Will Strike Next?

    Terrorism has escalated horizontally, not vertically. Instead of weapons of mass destruction, there has been a proliferation of low-level attacks. The trick will be to predict and prevent new plots.

    Jun 19, 2017

  • Smoke rises from the al-Mishlab district in Raqqa's southeastern outskirts, Syria, June 7, 2017

    Commentary

    When the Caliphate Falls, What Then for U.S. Policy?

    The eventual fall of ISIS-controlled Raqqa will necessitate a review of U.S. policy in Syria. Policymakers can start thinking about the questions it will raise now.

    Jun 16, 2017

  • A pedestrian looks at floral tributes for the victims of the attack on London Bridge and Borough Market, June 6, 2017

    Commentary

    Why Aren't There More Terrorist Attacks Like the One in London?

    The number of attacks like the one on London Bridge are low because jihadist ideologies have failed to gain traction in most Muslim countries, and it's difficult to recruit people remotely. Supporting violence and participating in it are two different things.

    Jun 7, 2017

  • Vehicles drive near Tabqa Dam on the Euphrates River, in the town of Tabqa, after Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) captured it from Islamic State militants, Syria May 12, 2017

    Commentary

    Developing a Comprehensive Strategy for Countering the Islamic State

    Despite substantial policy and military focus, U.S. attempts to stop the Islamic State group have met with only varying degrees of success. A patient, long-term U.S. investment in governance—including a renewed commitment to addressing the root causes of instability in the Middle East—is needed in Iraq and Syria.

    Jun 5, 2017

  • A soldier sets up voice intercept equipment during a cyber integration exercise on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, October 21, 2015

    Commentary

    What Happens After ISIS Goes Underground

    As the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria suffers defeats on the battlefield, it is expanding its cyber presence to continue to encourage attacks abroad. The more the group relies on cyberspace, the more likely it will expose important segments of its organization to detection and disruption.

    May 30, 2017

  • Anti-government protesters outside Sana'a University raise their fingers and fists in the air while chanting for a new Yemen, February 25, 2011

    Report

    Undermining Violent Extremism in Yemen

    In the past 50 years, Yemen has faced significant political instability, including multiple civil wars. Why might Yemenis reject political violence despite persistent conflict and unrest? And how can the United States and its partners undermine violent extremism?

    May 22, 2017

  • A former Islamic State prison in the town of Tabqa, after Syrian Democratic Forces captured it from Islamic State militants, Syria, May 12, 2017.

    Commentary

    ISIS: Weakened but Still Potent

    ISIS is being defeated as an insurgency while preparing to transform into a clandestine terrorist group. But ISIS will continue to pose a serious threat to the countries where it operates and to the Western nations that it targets as it evolves.

    May 18, 2017

  • Ismail Haniyeh, newly elected head of Hamas' political office, arrives to visit a sit-in in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, Gaza City, May 8, 2017

    Commentary

    Hamas's Strategic Rebranding

    Hamas has unveiled a revised version of its charter that appears to soften the group's stance toward Israel. Does this represent a shift away from violence and toward a more lasting and peaceful political presence? Or is it a ploy to buy time to rearm?

    May 17, 2017

  • Displaced Iraqi people pass a torn Islamic State banner as the battle between the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service and Islamic State militants continues nearby, in western Mosul, Iraq, April 23, 2017

    Commentary

    Can the Islamic State Survive Financially?

    Significant gains have been made in attacking the Islamic State's cash and diminishing its ability to finance high-frequency attacks in Iraq and Syria. But the group may retain enough money to support sporadic attacks in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe.

    May 15, 2017

  • U.S. Army Special Forces members train Iraqi fighters from Hashid Shaabi at Makhmur camp in Iraq, December 11, 2016

    Commentary

    SOF's Evolving Role: Warfare 'By, With, and Through' Local Forces

    U.S. special operations forces are not providing the muscle of the frontline combat troops fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Instead, they are providing meaningful support to the various indigenous forces. If they succeed, this model could become a standard option in the U.S. military playbook.

    May 9, 2017