The Islamic State (Terrorist Organization)

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ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), also known as ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), is a Sunni jihadist group with a particularly violent ideology that calls itself a caliphate and claims religious authority over all Muslims. It was inspired by al Qaida but later publicly expelled from it. RAND terrorism experts have analyzed the group's financing, management, and organization; its savvy use of social media for recruitment and fundraising; and the instability that spawned the group as a regional problem in the Middle East.

  • 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.

  • U.S. soldiers execute a fire mission to support Iraqi security forces during the Mosul counteroffensive in northern Iraq, December 24, 2016, photo by 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson/U.S. Army

    Report

    Countering ISIL as a Transregional Threat

    Jan 31, 2017

    The U.S. counter-ISIL strategy must recognize the long-term nature of the global violent jihadi threat. U.S. diplomatic and military actions should focus on reducing the appeal of ISIL and disrupting the transregional network that supports it.

Explore The Islamic State (Terrorist Organization)

  • Flowers at the beachside of the Imperial Marhaba resort, which was attacked by a gunman in Sousse, Tunisia, June 28, 2015

    Commentary

    After Attacks in France, Tunisia, and Kuwait, West Must Do More to Fight Surge of Terrorist Attacks

    The bloody terrorist attacks that left more than 50 people dead in France, Tunisia, and Kuwait are just the latest warnings that ISIS is turning its deadly campaign into a global enterprise. Stopping it will require an equally broad-based campaign.

    Jun 29, 2015

  • Iraqi soldiers perform physical training with 82nd Airborne

    Testimony

    An Assessment of the Counter-ISIL Campaign: One Year After Mosul

    ISIL's continuing strength demonstrates that adjustments to the current U.S. approach to counter it are necessary. The best strategy is to defeat and destroy ISIL through a partnered approach. But partnering with the Iraqi government presents a difficult challenge.

    Jun 24, 2015

  • Sunni tribal fighters stand guard near a school used as a shelter for displaced people in the city of Ramadi, April 11, 2015

    Commentary

    The Enemy You Know and the Ally You Don't

    Arming Iraq's Sunni militias to fight the Islamic State may seem like a quick fix, but newly declassified documents suggest it might only add fuel to the fire.

    Jun 23, 2015

  • A Tunisian holds up a flag during celebrations marking the fourth anniversary of Tunisia's revolution, Tunis, January 14, 2015

    Commentary

    Tunisia in the Crosshairs

    The open-ended nature of the Islamic State group's threat against Tunisair suggests that it intends to target Tunisia for the long haul. The United States should counter the threats with steadfast and sustained cooperation and assistance.

    Jun 22, 2015

  • An Afghan border policeman escorts a detained suspected Taliban fighter near Walli Was in Paktika province near the border with Pakistan November 5, 2012

    Commentary

    Expanding the Caliphate

    ISIS in South Asia, which it calls the Islamic State of Khorasan, is larger than most recognize, boasting between several hundred and several thousand fighters. But for now, it is closer to a loose affiliate than a direct arm of the organization.

    Jun 12, 2015

  • Smoke rises after what activists said were clashes with Islamic State fighters in Soran Azaz, Aleppo countryside June 1, 2015

    Commentary

    Islamic State's Global Expansion

    The radical Islamist group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, is now expanding in roughly a dozen countries across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia by exploiting local grievances, doling out money, and leveraging its battlefield successes.

    Jun 4, 2015

  • Multimedia

    RAND Experts Discuss Iran’s Role in Iraq: Room for Cooperation

    Alireza Nader, senior international policy analyst with the RAND Corporation, discusses his study, “Iran's Role in Iraq: Room for Cooperation?” with Khorshied Samad, RAND senior media relations officer and Lisa Sodders, RAND media relations officer.

    Jun 2, 2015

  • Hashid Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation) allied with Iraqi forces against the Islamic State, preparing to attack Tikrit March 26, 2015

    Report

    Could U.S.-Iran Cooperation Help Combat ISIL?

    Limited tactical cooperation between the United States and Iran may be possible in weakening ISIL even if the two nations don't share long-term interests. U.S. and Iranian military forces are fighting the same enemy in Iraq, and U.S. air power seems to complement Iran's on-the-ground presence.

    Jun 1, 2015

  • Iraqi security forces during a patrol, looking for Islamic State militants on the outskirts of Ramadi, April 9, 2015

    Commentary

    Iraq Is Bankrolling ISIL

    Iraq continues to fund ISIL by continuing salaries to the many Iraqi government employees who live in ISIL-controlled territory. That fact is a reminder of how poorly the country has been governed.

    May 26, 2015

  • A still from video purportedly of Islamic State militants, posted to social media sites on April 19, 2015

    Commentary

    Who Runs the Islamic State Group?

    Despite the Islamic State's notoriety, a wide range of theories are still circulating about who really runs the group.

    May 22, 2015

  • People run for cover after an explosion in Jalalabad April 18, 2015

    Commentary

    Has Islamic State Entered Afghanistan?

    The bulk of the Islamic State of Khorasan is thought to be in Pakistan, but the group is trying to make inroads into Afghanistan. That said, the group's actual ability to operate in Afghanistan appears rather limited.

    May 4, 2015

  • Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi observe a guard of honour at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, April 29, 2015

    Commentary

    Seduced by a Strongman?

    It is not true that domestic politics can be quarantined from foreign policy. In fact, Egypt's domestic and foreign policies are becoming more entangled by the day. And that bleed-over should raise concerns.

    Apr 30, 2015

  • Events @ RAND Audio Podcast

    Multimedia

    Is Bipartisan National Security Policy Possible in Today's Political Environment?

    Should the United States make a nuclear deal with Iran? What threat do cyber attacks pose to our nation? Should there be intelligence reform? In this Events @ RAND podcast, Mike Rogers speaks to these and other timely national security issues.

    Apr 21, 2015

  • Testimony

    There Will Be Battles in the Heart of Your Abode: The Threat Posed by Foreign Fighters Returning From Syria and Iraq: Addendum

    Document submitted on April 17, 2015 as an addendum to testimony presented before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on March 12, 2015.

    Apr 17, 2015

  • A damaged picture of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in Idlib, March 28, 2015

    Commentary

    Syria and Iraq: Inside the Terrorist Factory

    As the civil wars in Syria and Iraq continue, they sharpen the sectarian divide between Sunnis and Shias, threatening the stability of the region and attracting a steady flow of foreign volunteers, effectively turning Syria and Iraq into a terrorist factory.

    Mar 30, 2015

  • Militant Islamist fighters on a tank take part in a military parade along the streets of northern Raqqa province, Syria, June 30, 2014

    Testimony

    The Continuing Lure of Violent Jihad

    As the civil wars in Syria and Iraq continue, so does the terrorist threat emanating from these conflicts. Two galaxies of jihadist terrorists in the region pose a credible danger to the U.S. homeland: al Qaeda and its affiliates and ISIL. But the most likely threat comes from homegrown terrorists.

    Mar 24, 2015

  • Spanish police arresting a woman suspected of recruiting women to go to Syria and Iraq to support Islamic State insurgents

    Commentary

    The Allure of ISIS for Young Recruits

    Poverty and oppression may explain why people in some countries embrace violent extremism, but it does not account for the flow of Western volunteers or the dreamy allure of fighting for a faraway cause. Biographies of those who have reached out to participate in jihad suggest a variety of motives, including alienation, personal crises, dissatisfaction with empty spiritual lives, and adolescent rebellion.

    Mar 20, 2015

  • Armored vehicles of Iraqi security forces with militias known as Hashid Shaabi passing smoke arising from a clash with Islamic State militants in the town of al-Alam, March 10, 2015

    Commentary

    Means Matter: Competent Ground Forces and the Fight Against ISIL

    If Iraqi security forces are incapable of defeating ISIL in the cities where they have gone to ground, then the only reliable means available are U.S. ground combat forces. The U.S. Army and Marine Corps have all the skills in joint combined arms warfare that the ISF lacks.

    Mar 19, 2015

  • Testimony

    Containing Middle East Terror: Measures to Reduce the Threat Posed By Foreign Fighters Returning from Syria and Iraq

    Testimony presented before the House Homeland Security Committee, Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security on March 17, 2015.

    Mar 17, 2015

  • Houses that Faisal Shahzad and Sinh Vinh Ngo Nguyen lived in before they please guilty to terrorism charges.

    Essay

    Enemies Among Us: What We Know About Homegrown Terrorists

    Dozens of young Americans have attempted to join overseas jihadist groups in the past several years, raising special concern among counterterrorism officials that they might bring the fight home with them when they return.

    Feb 26, 2015