Terrorist Cells

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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 ISIS and its offshoots—to understand their motivations, their recruitment and training methods, and why some are more successful than others.

  • Armed fighters over a background of Syrian, Iraqi, and U.S. currencies and gold ingots, photos by zabelin, Cimmerian, Vitoria Holdings LLC, and johan10/Getty Images

    Report

    U.S. Efforts Are Essential to Counter an Islamic State Comeback

    Aug 8, 2019

    The Islamic State can no longer rely on local funding sources as it did when it controlled territory. But as an insurgency, its expenses are far lower. With revenue from criminal activities and the cash it hoarded, the group will survive as a clandestine terrorist movement. Counterfinance, intelligence, and possibly military action will be needed.

  • Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front fighters carry weapons on the back of pick-up trucks in Arsal, eastern Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, December 1, 2015, photo by Stringer/Reuters

    Commentary

    Al Qaeda Is Ready to Attack You Again

    Sep 5, 2019

    As al Qaeda continues to evolve, one of the most pressing questions is to what extent the group is still focused on attacking the West. Does the absence of spectacular attacks attributed to al Qaeda since 9/11 represent a lack of capability or merely a shift in priorities?

Explore Terrorist Organizations

  • Senegalese peacekeepers during a military operation in the Mopti region of Mali, July 5, 2019, photo by Gema Cortes/MINUSMA / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    Commentary

    Mali Violence Shows Limits of Intervention

    Each year brings more violence to Mali and its neighbors. Mali and Burkina Faso are rapidly destabilizing; the situation in Niger is less dire, but that is hardly a commendation. Why is the violence in Mali getting worse given the significant efforts by the international community to stem it?

    Nov 22, 2019

  • 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

    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.

    Oct 28, 2019

  • A convoy of U.S. vehicles is seen after withdrawing from northern Syria, in Erbil, Iraq October 21, 2019, photo by Azad Lashkari/Reuters

    Commentary

    The Syrian Withdrawal: Where Things Stand

    Without an orderly process for its national security decisions, the Trump administration has defaulted to the worst option regarding Syria. The sudden withdrawal of U.S. forces has left an opening for Russia to exploit. It also left the Kurds, a U.S. partner, to fend off a Turkish assault.

    Oct 21, 2019

  • A convoy of U.S. vehicles after withdrawing from northern Syria, on the outskirts of Dohuk, Iraq, October 21, 2019, photo by Ari Jalal/Reuters

    Commentary

    How the U.S. Withdrawal from Syria Provides a Boost to ISIS

    President Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria could provide the ISIS terrorist group with the time and space to regrow its organization and extend its networks throughout the Middle East. The longer-term strategic effects of the decision could reverberate in the region for years to come.

    Oct 21, 2019

  • Supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah wave Hezbollah and Lebanese flags at a rally marking the 10th anniversary of the end of Hezbollah's 2006 war with Israel, in Bint Jbeil, Lebanon August 13, 2016, photo by AZIZ TAHER/Reuters

    Commentary

    Iran's Proxies Are More Powerful Than Ever

    The Trump administration has pursued a so-called maximum pressure strategy designed to alter the course of Iran's foreign and security policies, which relies heavily on sanctions to change Iranian behavior. Financial sanctions are an important part of any counterterrorism strategy. But they aren't enough.

    Oct 16, 2019

  • Journal Article

    Winning the Peace in Iraq: Don't Give Up on Baghdad's Fragile Democracy

    Following years of war, Iraq's parliamentary government is stable and concerned with governance rather than sectarianism. But the work is not yet complete, and the author stresses diligence and patience before a lasting peace can be achieved.

    Oct 11, 2019

  • Blog

    China's 70th Anniversary, Wargaming, Fentanyl: RAND Weekly Recap

    This weekly recap focuses on what the future holds for China, the importance of gender diversity in wargaming, how Army families address life's challenges, and more.

    Oct 4, 2019

  • A relative grieves at Beslan school No.1 at a wall with portraits of victims of school siege that took the lives of 331 people, in Beslan, Russia, September 1, 2005, photo by Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

    Commentary

    A 50-Year-Old Terrorist Innovation Is Still Creating Life-and-Death Dramas

    Fifty years ago, urban guerrillas in Rio de Janeiro kidnapped the American ambassador to Brazil, setting off a worldwide wave of terrorist kidnappings that continues today. Although few of the terrorist groups that engaged in kidnapping over the past half century have survived, seizing hostages funded their operations and earned them notoriety. And for that reason, it will likely remain a mainstay of the terrorist tool kit.

    Sep 25, 2019

  • The al-Hol displacement camp in Hasaka governorate, Syria, holds thousands of detainees linked to ISIS, April 2, 2019, photo by Ali Hashisho/Reuters

    Commentary

    The Terrorist Threat Posed by Neglect and Indifference

    Western countries have seemingly washed their hands when it comes to the aftermath of ISIS. By ignoring the threat and leaving it to the Iraqis and Syrian Kurds to deal with European citizens in detention camps, Western nations are helping the terrorists' ideology persist.

    Sep 23, 2019

  • The Maute group stronghold with an ISIS flag in Marawi City, in southern Philippines, May 29, 2017, photo by Erik De Castro/Reuters

    Commentary

    Southeast Asia Loves ISIS, but Is the Feeling Mutual?

    As the ISIS core in Iraq and Syria attempts to rebuild, Baghdadi and his lieutenants will have to make difficult decisions about where to allocate resources. Now that the caliphate is gone and ISIS must transform into an insurgency, the largely untested lands of Southeast Asia may yield rich rewards.

    Sep 16, 2019

  • Blog

    Hurricane Dorian, Al Qaeda, Veterans' Health: RAND Weekly Recap

    This weekly recap looks at Hurricane Dorian recovery, al Qaeda 18 years after 9/11, veterans' mental health care, and more.

    Sep 13, 2019

  • Blog

    Social Manipulation, Boko Haram, Citizen Scientists: RAND Weekly Recap

    This weekly recap looks at hostile social manipulation, stopping the next Boko Haram, a citizen-science success story, and more.

    Sep 6, 2019

  • Mozambique on a map with a green pin, photo by Mark Rubens/Adobe Stock

    Commentary

    Counterproductive Counterinsurgency: Is Mozambique Creating the Next Boko Haram?

    Despite recent claims of ties to the Islamic State, the threat in Mozambique from the Islamist insurgent group al-Sunnah wa Jamaah appears to be domestic, with scarce evidence of direct ties to international extremist groups. But if the Mozambique government continues to respond in a heavy-handed manner, the threat is likely to grow, with potentially devastating effects for the country and region.

    Sep 3, 2019

  • Blog

    Drug Spending, Back to School, Korean Unification: RAND Weekly Recap

    This weekly recap looks at illegal drug spending, the problem of waking up early for school, possible paths toward Korean unification, and more.

    Aug 23, 2019

  • A young boy waves a black flag inscribed with Islamic verses at a rally of Tunisian Salafi Islamists in the central town of Kairouan, May 20, 2012, photo by Anis Mili/Reuters

    Report

    What Will Drive the Next Generation of Salafi-Jihadis?

    Continued economic stagnation and a high youth unemployment rate, exacerbated by the Muslim youth bulge, could lead to failed expectations and spur radicalization among disenchanted Gen Z Muslims. And this cohort's familiarity with the internet could foreshadow an adaptive, tech-savvy terrorist threat.

    Aug 22, 2019

  • Blog

    Gun Policy, Cannabis, ISIS: RAND Weekly Recap

    This weekly recap looks at gun policy in America, the cannabis market in Washington state, countering an ISIS comeback, and more.

    Aug 9, 2019

  • News Release

    Follow the Money: How the United States Can Counteract the Islamic State's Plans for a Comeback

    With the end of its territorial caliphate, the Islamic State will almost certainly attempt a comeback. Such efforts will require money. A new RAND report examines the group as an insurgency and a self-styled caliphate, with a focus on how the group managed its finances, drawing from the literature, the group's documents, and interviews with individuals who lived under the caliphate.

    Aug 8, 2019

  • Hamza bin Laden on an undetermined date at his wedding, video still by CIA

    Commentary

    The Death of Hamza bin Laden Will Hurt al Qaeda

    Hamza bin Laden, the son of al Qaeda's founder and the architect of the 9/11 attacks, is reportedly dead. If true, this is more than just a symbolic loss for the terrorist organization.

    Aug 2, 2019