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

  • Abubakar Shekau, leader of Boko Haram from 2009 to 2021, speaks in an unknown location in Nigeria in this still image from a video obtained on January 15, 2018, handout from Sahara Reporters via Reuters

    Report

    How to Reduce Violent Nonstate Actors' Abilities to Adapt

    Violent nonstate actors—terrorist groups, drug trafficking organizations, and others—pose durable and direct threats to U.S. security interests. Why are they so capable of adapting to changes in their environments, and how might the Army detect and mitigate such adaptations before they occur?

    Jun 6, 2022

  • A collage of the COVID-19 virus, armed terror groups, and a biological response team

    Report

    Implications of the Pandemic for Terrorist Interest in Biological Weapons

    Some policymakers and analysts have expressed concern that weaknesses in responses to the COVID-19 pandemic will motivate terrorists to seek biological weapons. While the prospect of the Islamic State and al-Qaeda pursuing biological weapons is not zero, it is unlikely, given the difficulties involved and the availability of simpler alternatives.

    May 31, 2022

Explore Terrorist Organizations

  • Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden in Jamkha, Afghanistan, May 1, 1998, photo by Balkis Press/ABACA/Reuters

    Commentary

    The Question of Succession in Al-Qaida

    Two months after the death of al Qaida leader Aymin al-Zawahiri, experts continue to debate potential contenders for his replacement while waiting for al-Qaeda to make an announcement. A dark horse contender with long ties to Osama bin Laden could upend predictions and threaten to revive one of history's most lethal terrorist groups.

    Sep 29, 2022

  • Report

    Report

    Book Discussion with National Security Correspondent Michael Gordon

    The RAND Center for Middle East Public Policy hosted a book discussion featuring Michael Gordon, a national security correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. Gordon and a panel of Middle East experts discussed his new book, "Degrade and Destroy."

    Aug 30, 2022

  • A Taliban fighter stands guard near the site where Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed in a U.S. strike over the weekend, in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 2, 2022, photo by Stringer/Reuters

    Commentary

    After the al-Zawahiri Strike, the U.S. May Lack Capabilities in Afghanistan

    The U.S. drone strike that killed al Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan took out one of the last remaining key figures behind the 9/11 terror attacks. But it also highlighted how little the United States got out of its 2020 bargain with the Taliban, and raised questions about the U.S. ability to adequately monitor the developing threat from this quarter going forward.

    Aug 3, 2022

  • Residents of Raqqa gather in the morning to drink tea after they had been allowed back to inspect their homes, photo by Aboud Hamam

    Essay

    Civilian Casualties: Lessons from the Battle for Raqqa

    The United States' emphasis on minimizing civilian harm in Raqqa, Syria, was quite clear and strong up and down the chain of command. But the way in which the U.S. military waged war in Raqqa too often undercut that commitment. The Pentagon asked RAND to find out what happened.

    Jul 1, 2022

  • Report

    Report

    Road to Damascus: The Russian Air Campaign in Syria, 2015 to 2018

    The authors review the chronology of Russian air operations in Syria, and assess the strategic and operational blueprint, basing strategy and force disposition, effectiveness of the Russian air campaign, and its applicability to future campaigns.

    May 11, 2022

  • News Release

    News Release

    Efforts to Avoid Civilian Casualties in Raqqa, Syria, in 2017 Were Considerable but Insufficient

    U.S. strategic choices in the battle to liberate Raqqa, Syria, from ISIS in 2017 likely increased civilian harm despite considerable efforts to avoid civilian casualties by both U.S. and coalition forces.

    Mar 31, 2022

  • The destruction on Al-Qouatli street in Raqqa, Syria, photo by Abood Hamam

    Report

    Efforts to Avoid Civilian Casualties in Raqqa Were Considerable but Insufficient

    The 2017 battle to liberate Raqqa, Syria, from ISIS is a cautionary tale in 21st-century conflicts. U.S. strategic choices likely increased civilian harm despite considerable efforts to avoid civilian casualties by both U.S. and coalition forces. What lessons can be applied to future operations?

    Mar 31, 2022

  • Terrorist photos on top of an illustration of data clusters, photos by DPA Picture Alliance and Sean Rayford/Alamy; background by Astibuag/Adobe Stock

    Blog

    Terrorism Research: How RAND Defined and Built a New Field of Knowledge

    In the early 1970s, amid a worldwide rash of bombings, hijackings, and hostage-takings, RAND researchers began creating the first international database of terrorist incidents. Maintained until 2009, it chronicles more than 40,000 terrorist attacks since 1968.

    Mar 9, 2022

  • Journal Article

    Journal Article

    Scenarios of Transnational Islamist Terrorism. Trends and Developments: A Fact-Based Threat Assessment

    Some scholars have speculated that the current religious wave of terrorism, epitomized by the global jihadist movement, might finally be starting to ebb. But the movement could very well roar back to life.

    Feb 25, 2022

  • Journal Article

    Journal Article

    The Atomization of Political Violence

    The conclusion that terrorism is likely to persist at low levels does not preclude large-scale attacks. The present tumultuous state of the world and growing domestic extremism could produce dramatic changes in the future trajectory of political violence.

    Feb 25, 2022

  • View of Pakistan and Taliban flags at the Friendship Gate crossing point in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border town of Chaman, Pakistan, August 27, 2021, photo by Saeed Ali Achakzai/Reuters

    Commentary

    Complex Calculations Shape Pakistan-TTP Negotiations

    Pakistan sees the Taliban as a facilitator of discussions with the TTP, as an ally in persuading the TTP to negotiate, and as a guarantor of whatever agreement is reached. And given the Taliban's diplomatic isolation and desperate economic situation, Pakistan can in return assist Afghanistan's new rulers in gaining acceptance and aid.

    Dec 20, 2021

  • Paramilitary soldiers walk past the Pakistan Parliament building in Islamabad, Pakistan, April 10, 2015, photo by Faisal Mahmood/Reuters

    Commentary

    Negotiating with TTP—A Different Perspective

    America's withdrawal and the Taliban's swift return to power in Afghanistan could be a primary force in shaping the trajectory of the continuing armed struggle with Pakistan's Taliban. It may be time for Islamabad to consider whether to renew efforts aimed at reaching a political settlement.

    Oct 27, 2021

  • Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting with Russian Olympic athletes at the Moscow Kremlin in run-up to the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games, June 30, 2021, photo by Sergei Bobylev/Reuters

    Journal Article

    Can a Pragmatic Relationship With the Taliban Help Russia Counter Terrorism?

    Neither the United States nor Russia wants to see Afghanistan become a haven for international terrorist groups. For now, Russia is taking a pragmatic approach to the Taliban in that it has a relationship with the group that the United States does not.

    Sep 8, 2021

  • Marines guide a woman and her child during an evacuation from Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 18, 2021, photo by Marine Corps Sgt. Isaiah Campbell/U.S. Department of Defense

    Commentary

    Afghanistan Was Lost Long Ago

    The United States failed to build a lasting state in Afghanistan. Although the mission was not doomed from the start, early miscalculations and critical mistakes made success unlikely.

    Aug 30, 2021

  • Violent Extremism in America: Can it be Stopped?

    Multimedia

    Violent Extremism in America: Can It Be Stopped?

    Co-authors of the RAND report, Violent Extremism in America, discuss the findings from their interviews with former members of radical organizations.

    Jul 7, 2021

  • Protesters gather during the Indiana Stop Asian Hate Rally on Monument Circle in Indianapolis, Indiana, March 27, 2021, photo by USA Today Network via Reuters

    Research Brief

    What Former Extremists and Their Families Say About Radicalization in America

    Violent extremism is an evolving, ongoing threat in the United States. Interviews with former extremists—and their families and friends—offer insights into how individuals become radicalized, how they leave extremist groups, and what communities can do to stop the growth of extremism in their area.

    Jun 25, 2021

  • Report

    Report

    Insights from the Bin Laden Archive: Inventory of research and knowledge and initial assessment and characterisation of the Bin Laden Archive

    The authors present an inventory of current knowledge on Al Qa'ida and of completed and ongoing research on the Bin Laden Archive. They also describe their initial assessment and characterisation of the Bin Laden Archive.

    May 5, 2021

  • News Release

    News Release

    Interviews with Former Extremists Reveal Multiple Paths to Developing Extreme Ideologies; Rejection of Extremism Often ...

    People who radicalize to extremist ideologies often are triggered by negative life events or exposure to propaganda, and those who escape from extreme groups frequently are aided by an individual or group that intervenes to help them reject the philosophy.

    Apr 2, 2021