Terrorism Threat Assessment

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In light of the global increase in the number and lethality of terrorist attacks, it has become imperative that nations, states, and private citizens become more involved in a strategic vision to recognize, prepare for, and — if possible — prevent such events. RAND research and analysis has provided policymakers with objective guidance and recommendations to improve preparedness, international collaboration, response, and recovery to this global threat.

  • Smoke superimposed over a mass grave of ISIS fighters found in 2017 near Fallujah, Iraq, photos by Iraqi ministry of defence and Marina/Adobe Stock; design by Peter Soriano/RAND Corporation

    Report

    Who Are America's Jihadists?

    Sep 11, 2020

    U.S. residents who plotted to carry out jihadist attacks at home and those who traveled or attempted to travel to join jihadists abroad represent two dimensions of the terrorist threat. But both types are driven by internal motivations and circumstances as much as they are inspired by external groups.

  • People walk on the street, where Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his caliphate back in 2014, in the old city of Mosul, Iraq, October 27, 2019, photo by Abdullah Rashid/Reuters

    Commentary

    Baghdadi's Death Will Make Global Affiliates More Independent

    Oct 28, 2019

    The recent death of Islamic State leader and self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is a major blow to the Islamic State. Baghdadi held a kind of elusive charisma for the organization. He will be replaced, but this does not mean that the Islamic State will simply go back to business as usual.

Explore Terrorism Threat Assessment

  • Police at the scene of a security operation in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek in Belgium, March 18, 2016

    Commentary

    Europe's Terror Fight Far from Over

    Salah Abdeslam is suspected of being the logistics man for the November terrorist attacks in Paris. His capture may provide authorities with a window into the ISIS network in Europe.

    Mar 22, 2016

  • Protesters carry Al-Qaeda flags during an anti-government protest in the town of Marat Numan in Idlib province, Syria, March 11, 2016

    Commentary

    Could ISIS and Al Qaeda, Two Giants of Jihad, Unite?

    It could take a change in leadership in both Al Qaeda and ISIS and perhaps some compromises on mission and strategy, but there are enough points of confluence to make a united jihadist front a realistic and frightening possibility.

    Mar 14, 2016

  • Events @ RAND Audio Podcast

    Multimedia

    Syrian Refugees: Humanitarian and Security Perspectives

    The U.S. and other Western countries have vowed to admit more Syrian refugees, but terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, Paris, Cologne, and Jakarta are fueling community anxieties. In this RAND Policy Circle briefing, experts address what countries are doing to help abate the humanitarian crisis and ongoing efforts to counter the terrorist threat.

    Feb 25, 2016

  • Congressional Briefing Podcast

    Multimedia

    Lessening the Risk of Refugee Radicalization

    In this February 2016 congressional briefing, senior political scientist Barbara H. Sude discusses historical examples of radicalization among refugee groups, factors that can increase the risk of radicalization, measures to reduce the risk, and considerations for policymakers and legislators.

    Feb 16, 2016

  • Libya Dawn fighters watch Islamic State militant positions near Sirte March 19, 2015

    Commentary

    The Three Challenges of Countering ISIS in Libya

    ISIS's expansion in Libya is a threat to the security of Libyans, to the region, and to Europe. U.S. and European cooperation to counter ISIS is essential and Libya is unlikely to ever be peaceful without outside military support.

    Feb 5, 2016

  • An operations intelligence analyst

    Report

    Assessing Threats with Soft, Uncertain, and Conflicting Evidence

    Part of thwarting terrorist attacks is observing suspicious individuals over time with diverse means. These observations provide data that are often both complex and “soft.” How can analysts combine these data to form a realistic threat assessment?

    Feb 1, 2016

  • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a statement that sanctions will be lifted on Iran after the IAEA verified that Iran has met all conditions under the nuclear deal, January 16, 2016

    Commentary

    Iran, Terrorism, and Nonproliferation After the Nuclear Deal

    As Iran re-enters global markets, the Obama administration needs a strategy that accounts for the nuclear deal's potentially adverse implications for U.S. counterterrorism policy as well as its advantages for nonproliferation policy.

    Jan 28, 2016

  • A demonstration on infectious disease identification and treatment from the Benin Armed Force in Contonou, Benin, January 2013

    Commentary

    Countering Bioterror

    While advances in biotechnology have brought a wide range of benefits, biological weapons are now within the reach of many rogue nations and possibly some terrorist groups. Reports show that the U.S. is ill prepared to address this threat.

    Jan 18, 2016

  • U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter stands with Col. Otto Liller as he is greeted by Iraqi Major General Falah al Mohamedawi (L) at the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service Academy in Baghdad, July 23, 2015

    Commentary

    Solving the Geometrical Problem of Terrorism

    Think of terror organizations as being composed of four elements, organized in concentric circles with the leaders at the center bull's eye, operational elements in the second ring, supporters in the third, and sympathizers in the fourth. Neutralizing each group will require different strategies.

    Jan 13, 2016

  • A Kurdish refugee woman from Syria walks with her children at a refugee camp in Suruc, Turkey, November 17, 2014

    Report

    Lessening the Risk of Refugee Radicalization: Lessons from the Past

    Radicalization among refugee populations, such as the millions currently fleeing Syria, is not inevitable. Rather, comprehensive policies that go beyond immediate life-saving needs can mitigate the risk. But such policies were rare in past crises and even today can be difficult to put in place and sustain.

    Dec 28, 2015

  • A no-school sign is pictured at Florence Nightingale Middle School in the Cypress Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, December 15, 2015

    Commentary

    How Terrorist Threats Against LA and New York Schools Exposed Weaknesses

    The handling of terrorist threats on Los Angeles and New York City schools calls into question the ability of national and local government to coordinate a terrorist crisis involving two or more cities.

    Dec 23, 2015

  • Flowers and candles are displayed at a makeshift memorial after the December 2, 2015 shooting in San Bernardino, California

    Commentary

    How Terrorists Get Here

    Of 134 jihadist-inspired terrorists who have carried out or plotted attacks in the United States since 9/11, 96 were U.S. citizens and 19 others were legal permanent residents. While some level of comfort may be drawn from the fact that terrorists are not pouring into the country, there is no basis for complacency.

    Dec 18, 2015

  • Journal Article

    Using Causal Models in Heterogeneous Information Fusion to Detect Terrorists

    We describe basic research that uses a causal, uncertainty-sensitive computational model rooted in qualitative social science to fuse disparate pieces of threat information.

    Dec 14, 2015

  • President Barack Obama speaks about counterterrorism and the U.S. fight against the Islamic State, December 6, 2015

    Commentary

    If Terrorism Is Homegrown, a Visa Overhaul Won't Keep Americans Safe

    Despite being the focus of renewed scrutiny, only three people involved in terrorist incidents have entered the United States via the visa waiver program in the past quarter-century.

    Dec 7, 2015

  • Migrants walk toward the Austrian border town of Spielfeld, in Sentilj, Slovenia, November 18, 2015

    Testimony

    The Syrian Refugee Crisis and U.S. National Security

    America has a long tradition of offering protection to refugees, and the threat from refugees has historically been relatively low. However, the government should continue to reassess its refugee program and ensure that it safeguards national security.

    Nov 19, 2015

  • A passerby pauses near a makeshift memorial with U.S. and French flags outside the French embassy in Washington, November 16, 2015

    Testimony

    What the Paris Attacks Mean for U.S. Strategy in Syria and Homeland Security

    Events in the Middle East and Europe have direct implications for U.S. homeland security. And the attacks in Paris have increased pressure to step up the fight in Syria and Iraq. But Americans should consider the threat in context, and adjustments to U.S. strategy in Syria should only be a matter of degrees.

    Nov 19, 2015

  • A tank of the Syrian National Army in the outskirts of Damascus on September 21, 2013

    Testimony

    The Dynamics of the Conflicts in Syria and Iraq and the Threat Posed by Homegrown Terrorists and Returning Western Fighters

    The fighting in Iraq and Syria is likely to continue. How will the dynamics of these conflicts shape the region and events beyond? And what threat do Westerners who've joined jihadists on these battlefields and homegrown terrorists pose to the U.S. homeland?

    Nov 18, 2015

  • Islamic State fighters take part in a military parade along the streets of northern Raqqa province, Syria, June 30, 2014

    Commentary

    ISIS Will Become More Deadly Before It Dies

    The lesson with ISIS is straightforward. Western populations should be prepared for an upsurge in violence if ISIS continues to lose territory. There has already been a growth in attacks and plots across the West with operational or inspirational ties to ISIS.

    Nov 18, 2015

  • News Release

    Michael Wermuth Dies at 69; RAND Terrorism Expert Helped Establish U.S. Homeland Security Strategies

    Michael A. Wermuth, a RAND researcher and terrorism expert, died November 1. He was the executive director of a federal advisory panel on terrorism when it concluded — nearly two years before 9/11 — that a terrorist attack on U.S. soil was inevitable.

    Nov 4, 2015

  • Prisoner wearing handcuffs in a courtroom

    Commentary

    What's Next on the Convicted Terrorist's Timeline?

    As inmates near the end of their sentences for terrorism-related offenses, and with some individuals already freed, it's time to explore what considerations may be necessary.

    Nov 4, 2015