Terrorist Organizations

Featured

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.

  • Police officials stand on the sidewalk as cars drive on the road in front of the Pulse night club, following a shooting in Orlando, Florida, June 21, 2016

    Report

    Trends in the Draw of Americans to Foreign Terrorist Organizations from 9/11 to Today

    Dec 18, 2018

    The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been more successful than its predecessor organization, al Qaeda, in drawing Americans to its cause. Americans drawn to ISIL are more likely to be younger, less educated, Caucasian/white or African American/black, and to have been born in the United States.

  • A man and a boy ride a bicycle past a damaged mosque along a deserted street filled with debris in Deir al-Zor, Syria, March 5, 2014

    Report

    ISIL's Negative Economic Impacts on Iraq and Syria

    Sep 13, 2017

    The Islamic State reduced the GDP of cities under its control by 23 percent. The group was able to maintain stable conditions in parts of Mosul and Raqqah, but conditions elsewhere deteriorated under poor governance and an inability to defend its territory from military opposition.

Explore Terrorist Organizations

  • Supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah leader holding pictures of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Beirut, Lebanon, October 11, 2016, photo by Aziz Taher/Reuters

    Commentary

    Iran's Network of Fighters in the Middle East Aren't Always Loyal to Iran

    Iran's nonstate partners are emerging as central players in the escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran, and may be a driver of further escalation. But how involved is Iran with these proxy groups?

    May 21, 2019

  • Damaged artifacts inside the museum of the historic city of Palmyra, Syria, March 27, 2016, photo by SANA/Reuters

    Commentary

    We're Just Beginning to Grasp the Toll of the Islamic State's Archaeological Looting in Syria

    During the Islamic State's rise, looted artifacts were said to be a significant source of income for the group. But no one had identified the value, using empirical data and systematic calculations, of the artifacts that were known to exist in Syria's archaeological sites. Until now.

    May 15, 2019

  • Security personnel stand guard in front of St. Anthony's Shrine, days after a string of suicide bomb attacks across the island on Easter Sunday, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 29, 2019, photo by Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

    Commentary

    Sri Lanka's Easter Attacks: Dismantling Myths to Prevent the Next Attack

    On Easter Sunday, suicide bombers hit six locations across Sri Lanka, killing more than 250 people. Even before ISIS claimed responsibility, there was no obvious connection to the quarter-century of violence that afflicted the nation until 2009. It is worth dismantling a few myths that might prevent better preparation for future attacks.

    May 6, 2019

  • Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces with a captured ISIS flag in Raqqa, Syria, August 14, 2017, photo by Zohra Bensemra/Reuters

    Commentary

    Baghdadi Resurfaces: What It Means for ISIS's Global Terror Campaign

    With last week's release of a video of Abu Bakr Baghdadi, ISIS showed that it's still got some life left—literally. The most important message to take away from the Baghdadi video may be that the Islamic State does not need territory to survive and even thrive.

    May 6, 2019

  • A bearded man appearing to be Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi speaks in a video released April 29, 2019, photo by Islamic State Group/Al Furqan Media Network/Reuters TV

    Commentary

    What the Baghdadi Video Means

    For the first time in five years, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the reclusive leader of ISIS, appeared on video. Why did he suddenly feel the need to show his face and speak to his followers? The answer concerns how recent events intersect with ISIS's long-term needs.

    Apr 30, 2019

  • Mock Bitcoins are displayed in Berlin, January 7, 2014, photo by Pawel Kopczynski/Reuters

    Report

    Terrorist Use of Cryptocurrencies

    Counterterrorism finance strategies have reduced terrorist access to official currencies. Will terrorist groups therefore increase their use of digital cryptocurrencies? New ones have emerged, including some that claim to be more private and secure than Bitcoin, but they also have limitations that make them less viable.

    Mar 27, 2019

  • Members of al Qaeda's Nusra Front walk along a street in the northwestern city of Ariha, after a coalition of insurgent groups seized the area in Idlib province, May 29, 2015, photo by Abed Kontar/Reuters

    Commentary

    How Terrorist Groups Learn: Implications for al Qaeda

    With the Islamic State losing the last of its territory, the global jihadist movement is now entering a new phase. The question on the minds of many is whether al Qaeda will be able to capitalize upon the moment and reclaim the dominant position as the most capable Sunni jihadist terrorist organization.

    Mar 14, 2019

  • Soldiers assigned to the 101st Resolute Support Sustainment Brigade load onto a helicopter to head out and execute missions across Afghanistan, Jan. 15, 2019, photo by 1st Lt. Verniccia Ford/U.S. Department of Defense

    Commentary

    Trump's Latest Move on Afghanistan Is a Repeat of Obama's

    So far, both Presidents Obama and Trump have chosen “not to lose” in Afghanistan. As time goes on and the American public's patience grows shorter, this choice becomes more difficult.

    Mar 11, 2019

  • Soldiers in military gear are silhouetted against the setting sun.

    Multimedia

    Strategic Rethink: America's Security Deficit

    The global security landscape is shifting dramatically. How can the United States protect itself in today's tumultuous world? This video provides an overview of findings from the second volume in RAND's Strategic Rethink series, which recommends a suite of options that could help policymakers ensure that resources remain aligned with strategic demands.

    Mar 7, 2019

  • Man in handcuffs sits at a table with scales of justice, photo by djedzura/Getty Images

    Commentary

    Leaving ISIS Detainees in the Desert Doesn't Serve U.S. Interests

    Leaving ISIS detainees in the desert may sound like an apt punishment, but it's dangerous. Repatriation and prosecution could help ensure ISIS volunteers don't scatter to other jihadist fronts.

    Mar 5, 2019

  • People arrive at Al Hidayah, a youth camp at Warwick University in Coventry, central England, August 9, 2009, photo by Kieran Doherty/Reuters

    Commentary

    To Ensure Deradicalisation Programmes Are Effective, Better Evaluation Practices Must First Be Implemented

    Given the increasing number of ISIS foreign fighters seeking re-entry into the UK, a better understanding of deradicalisation programs is essential. More robust and transparent evaluation processes for intervention programmes should be implemented before confidence in their effectiveness can be established.

    Mar 4, 2019

  • U.S. military advisers from the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade walk at an Afghan National Army base in Maidan Wardak province, Afghanistan, August 6, 2018, photo by James Mackenzie/Reuters

    Commentary

    Don't Rush Into Afghan Peace

    The Trump administration has reportedly offered to withdraw forces from Afghanistan if the Taliban stops fighting and opens negotiations with the government. If the Taliban agrees to a cease-fire and wider negotiations, it will be an accomplishment to celebrate. But it will be only the first step on a long and difficult road to peace.

    Mar 1, 2019

  • Donald Trump holds up a photo of a border wall design in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., January 11, 2019, photo by Leah Millis/Reuters

    Commentary

    Terrorists on the Border and Government Secrecy

    Detailed information on how many would-be terrorists may have sought to cross the southern border is being withheld on the grounds that it is sensitive. The refusal of officials to offer a fuller explanation of the numbers illustrates how the continued expansion of secrecy in government is damaging the ability of the public to assess the risk and evaluate the response.

    Feb 13, 2019

  • Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro meets with Iran's President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran, Iran, October 22, 2016, photo by Miraflores Palace/Handout/Reuters

    Commentary

    Hezbollah Is in Venezuela to Stay

    Whatever the benefits of replacing the current Venezuelan regime with Washington's preferred alternative, Juan Guaidó, there's reason to doubt that it would change the country's problematic relationship with Hezbollah. Hezbollah is well-entrenched in Venezuela, where it has established a vast infrastructure for its criminal activities.

    Feb 11, 2019

  • News Release

    Middle Eastern Communities Can Resist Sectarianism

    Middle Eastern communities are generally resilient to the worst sectarian impulses and even communities that experience sectarian strife can recover from it. Indeed, at least at the local level, communities can resist the slide toward sectarianism and promote resilience and cross-sectarian cooperation.

    Jan 14, 2019

  • Beirut Madinati candidates and activists after announcing their list of candidates for the municipality elections in Beirut, Lebanon, April 22, 2016

    Report

    Countering Sectarianism in the Middle East

    Scholars and policymakers have sought to understand what drives sectarianism in the Middle East and its relationship to multiple conflicts. Far less attention has been focused on how communities inoculate themselves from sectarianism or recover from it.

    Jan 14, 2019

  • Beirut Madinati candidates and delegates cheer

    Research Brief

    Middle Eastern Communities Can Resist Sectarianism

    Sectarian violence in the Middle East has been destructive, but it is still the exception rather than the norm. Communities are generally resilient to the worst sectarian impulses. Lessons from Lebanon, Bahrain, Syria, and Iraq show that there are a range of actions that can curb sectarianism.

    Jan 14, 2019

  • Syrian Democratic Forces and U.S. troops are seen during a patrol near Turkish border in Hasakah, Syria, November 4, 2018

    Commentary

    America's Absence Could Be Syria's New Nightmare

    President Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria reverses his administration's recent policy of retaining them as long as Iranian troops stay. U.S. withdrawal would give Bashar al-Assad, Iran, and Russia freer rein to subdue opposition forces. And Assad could feel emboldened to act with greater impunity and brutality.

    Jan 10, 2019

  • A soldier stands guard near a poster of Syria's President Bashar al Assad and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Rastan, Syria, June 6, 2018

    Commentary

    Confusion Over the U.S. Withdrawal from Syria

    Washington's strategy in Syria has been to impose costs on the Syrian government by diplomatic ostracism and economic sanctions. This punitive approach is morally satisfying and politically expedient, but as a practical matter it just helps perpetuate the conflict and sustain Assad's dependency on Iran.

    Jan 9, 2019

  • Popular Mobilisation Forces fighters ride in a tank near the Iraqi-Syrian border in al-Qaim, Iraq, November 26, 2018

    Commentary

    Withdrawing from Syria Leaves a Vacuum That Iran Will Fill

    President Trump's decision to withdraw American troops from Syria may be unintentionally signaling that the United States is unwilling to compete in critical geopolitical hotspots. Such a message could embolden powerful states—including Iran—to expand their presence.

    Jan 8, 2019