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

  • A person typing on a computer keyboard in a dark room

    Commentary

    Are Terrorists Using Cryptocurrencies?

    As the U.S. Treasury Department and its partners have denied terrorists access to the international financial system, new digital currencies could become an attractive alternative. They could be used for money laundering or to pay the personnel and vendors that keep the terrorist machine running.

    Apr 21, 2017

  • Person holding a smartphone displaying influencer marketing

    Report

    How to Empower ISIS Opponents on Twitter

    ISIS supporters on average produce 50 percent more tweets per day than ISIS opponents. It's critical to empower ISIS opponents on Twitter by drawing on lessons from the marketing industry.

    Apr 21, 2017

  • News Release

    Islamic State Control of People Down 83% in Iraq and 56% in Syria from Peak Levels

    The Islamic State has lost substantial control of territory and people but still conducts and inspires attacks around the world. The U.S. should pursue a light rollback strategy that relies on local forces backed by U.S. special operations forces, intelligence assets, and airpower.

    Apr 20, 2017

  • Iraqi forces advance against Islamic State militants in western Mosul, Iraq, March 6, 2017

    Report

    Rolling Back the Islamic State

    The Islamic State has lost substantial control of territory and people but still conducts and inspires attacks around the world. The U.S. should pursue a light rollback strategy that relies on local forces backed by U.S. special operations forces, intelligence assets, and airpower.

    Apr 20, 2017

  • Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, Orlando police chief John Mina, and FBI agent Ron Hopper at a news conference after the attack at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, June 12, 2016

    Commentary

    Domestic Terrorism: Weighing the Challenges

    The U.S. is struggling to find an effective way to counter violent extremism at home and counteract the presence of terrorist groups on social media. Policymakers are tasked with managing a military defeat of IS in the Middle East while lowering the risk of blowback in the U.S. at the same time.

    Apr 13, 2017

  • An Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service convoy moves towards Mosul, Iraq, February 23, 2017

    Commentary

    Assessing U.S. Terrorism Challenges Around the Globe

    For the United States, countering terrorism saw both progress and setbacks in 2016. The U.S. will need to keep pace with terrorist abilities to adapt to its countermeasures while maintaining a high operational tempo punctuated by aggressive counterterrorism strikes.

    Apr 13, 2017

  • People leave candles in memory of victims of a blast in the St. Petersburg metro, Russia, April 4, 2017

    Commentary

    Attacks on Russia Will Only Increase

    As Russia gets more involved with the Syrian civil war, it's likely that Sunni militants will intensify their campaign against Russia. But the key reason why Sunni attacks on Russia proper will increase is the fallout between Sunni jihadists in the Caucasus.

    Apr 4, 2017

  • Emergency services attend the scene outside Sennaya Ploshchad metro station in St. Petersburg, Russia

    Commentary

    How Russia Became the Jihadists' No. 1 Target

    Russia is fast replacing the United States as the number-one enemy of Al Qaeda, ISIS, and other Sunni jihadist groups motivated by violent and puritanical Salafist ideology. This shift is rooted in recent Russian actions in the Middle East.

    Apr 3, 2017

  • Firefighters put out fires at oil wells that were set ablaze by Islamic State militants before they fled the oil-producing region of Qayyara, Iraq, January 28, 2017

    Report

    The Future of ISIL's Finances

    ISIL has been described as the wealthiest terrorist group in history. It has developed diversified revenue streams from seizing control of banks, extortion, and trafficking oil. As global counter-ISIL efforts progress, how might the group's finances evolve?

    Mar 29, 2017

  • Children pose after registering at a school and receiving new backpacks in Mosul, Iraq, January 23, 2017

    Commentary

    The Urgent Need for an Education Plan in Mosul

    In addition to restoring Mosul's damaged infrastructure, efforts to stabilize the city must include a plan to rebuild education. Students need to make up years of missed K-12 and university education, and ISIS indoctrination needs to be undone.

    Mar 27, 2017

  • Fighters of the Syrian Islamist rebel group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham cheer on a pickup truck after a Russian helicopter was shot down in the north of Syria's rebel-held Idlib province, August 1, 2016

    Commentary

    Al Qaeda in Syria Can Change Its Name, but Not Its Stripes

    Al Qaeda in Syria, by any name, remains a dangerous and capable terrorist organization with the ability to conduct attacks in the West. Those seeking to grapple with the threat the group poses should focus less on its names and more on its actions.

    Mar 23, 2017

  • Afghan security forces take position during a gun battle between Taliban and Afghan security forces in Laghman province, Afghanistan, March 1, 2017

    Commentary

    How Trump Should Manage Afghanistan

    While media coverage has focused on Syria and Iraq, Afghanistan remains an important frontline state in the fight against terrorism. The Trump administration should aim to prevent the Taliban from overthrowing the Afghan government, encourage political reconciliation, and pursue terrorists that threaten the United States.

    Mar 21, 2017

  • Report

    Knowing the Enemy: Understanding the Islamic State and Principles for Defeating It

    RAND researchers outline general principles that U.S. policymakers must consider when conceiving and weighing appropriate strategies to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

    Mar 21, 2017

  • Pakistani soldiers at an army post in the Shawal mountains along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, near a known haven for al Qaeda militants, April 29, 2006

    Commentary

    Beware the New Mujahideen: The Threat from Future Jihadist Networks

    Today's terrorist networks will multiply far beyond the wars in Iraq and Syria. When one conflict ends, these fighters often join another. It is critical they be denied safe haven and the ability to train and network in ungoverned territories.

    Mar 14, 2017

  • Iraqi civilians walk in Al Mansour District as fighting between Iraqi security forces and Islamic State fighters continues in western Mosul, Iraq, March 10, 2017

    Commentary

    Why a Dying ISIS Could Be an Even Bigger Threat

    The collapse of the so-called caliphate won't eliminate ISIS or similar groups. In the short term, the threat of ISIS-related attacks on the West may even grow.

    Mar 13, 2017

  • A Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter watches a convoy of his forces advancing north of Raqqa, Syria, February 5, 2017

    Commentary

    To Take Raqqa, the U.S. Must Work with Its Partner in the Fight Against the Islamic State Group

    Turkey strongly opposes the U.S. bid to arm the Syrian Kurds. Rushing into Raqqa without reaching agreement with Turkey would jeopardize larger U.S. regional and even global geopolitical objectives.

    Mar 13, 2017

  • Smoke rises in the background as Syrian Democratic Forces fighters stand near rubble of a destroyed building, north of Raqqa, Syria, November 7, 2016

    Commentary

    Where Do ISIS Fighters Go When the Caliphate Falls?

    When a conflict ends, transnational terrorists are likely to disperse in many directions and switch their allegiances among terrorist groups. For the West, countering these different groups will require a range of strategies.

    Mar 6, 2017

  • U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) listens to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (2ndR) at the start of a meeting at the World Conference Center in Bonn, Germany, February 16, 2017

    Commentary

    U.S. Should Test Russia on Islamic State

    The United States should consider accepting Russia's offer to help on ISIS, especially if the Trump administration is considering sending more troops or establishing safe zones in Syria.

    Feb 28, 2017

  • A member of the counterterrorism task force stands guard in Times Square, New York City, December 31, 2016

    Testimony

    No Easy Solutions to the Persistent Terrorist Threat

    Jihadist terrorism isn't the most dangerous threat to the United States. But it is the most prominent. There are no clear solutions to this problem, and all America's counterterrorism options entail risks.

    Feb 14, 2017

  • Somali government soldiers secure the scene of an explosion in front of Dayah hotel in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, January 25, 2017

    Commentary

    U.S. Counterterrorism Strategy Must Be About More Than ISIS

    ISIS is a worthy candidate for eradication, but failing to also target its franchises, al-Qaida splinters, and other non-aligned groups in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia could allow other threats to metastasize.

    Feb 9, 2017