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

  • Members of al Qaeda's Nusra Front move toward their positions near al-Zahra village, north of Aleppo city, November 25, 2014

    Commentary

    The Moderate Face of Al Qaeda

    Oct 24, 2017

    Al Qaeda in Syria cut ties with its parent organization to portray itself as a legitimate, capable, and independent force in the Syrian civil war. The group appears dedicated to helping Syrians prevail, and now that ISIS has lost its capital in Raqqa, al Qaeda may be the only group viewed as militarily capable of challenging the Assad regime.

  • 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

  • French President Emmanuel Macron gives a speech at an international conference to discuss ways of cutting funding to terrorist groups, at the OECD headquarters in Paris, France, April 26, 2018

    Testimony

    Current Trends in Terrorist Financing

    How do terrorists generate income? And how might ISIS, the wealthiest group in history, seek to use its funds to make a comeback? Terrorist financing has evolved, making it difficult to counter. But these efforts must continue to keep ISIS isolated from external patrons and state sponsors.

    Sep 7, 2018

  • Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims attend prayers during Eid al-Fitr as they mark the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, at the site of a suicide car bomb attack over the weekend in Baghdad, Iraq, July 6, 2016

    Report

    Blaming Sunni-Shi'a Split for Middle East Unrest Is Too Simplistic

    Policy decisions are being made based on the assumption that the Middle East is riven by a purely dualistic sectarian war between Sunni and Shi'a Muslims. While sectarianism is relevant, geopolitical competition, local disputes, and political rivalries are the core drivers of conflict in countries like Iraq and Syria.

    Aug 30, 2018

  • Shelly Culbertson and a United Nations Mine Action Service Implementation Partner survey the grounds of the Al-Shifa Hospital complex in Mosul, Iraq.

    Multimedia

    Making Victory Count: Stabilizing Mosul

    RAND researchers Shelly Culbertson and Linda Robinson visited Iraq nine months after the Battle of Mosul to gauge the progress being made in rebuilding and stabilizing the region. In the aftermath of combat operations against ISIS, what are the critical requirements for achieving lasting stability and the resumption of city life in Mosul?

    Aug 22, 2018

  • A simple radiation warning design on a concrete wall

    Commentary

    Is Nuclear Terrorism Distracting Attention from More Realistic Threats?

    A nuclear terrorist attack is currently not a realistic threat. It would require an unprecedented level of sophistication from terrorists. The majority of terrorist attacks are conducted with conventional explosives.

    Jul 27, 2018

  • A Taliban (R) stands as Afghan security forces ride on an army vehicle during a celebration of a ceasefire in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, June 16, 2018

    Commentary

    Afghan Ceasefires Offer Hope for a Peaceful Future

    Parallel ceasefires in Afghanistan by the Afghan government and the Taliban for the end of the holy month of Ramadan brought a short respite from the violence. This was an unprecedented development, but was it an opening for resolution of the conflict?

    Jun 25, 2018

  • Report

    Lessons from Others for Future U.S. Army Operations in and Through the Information Environment

    An examination of the evolution of both allied and adversary use of information power, alongside a comparative analysis of capability areas in which these others excel, can guide future U.S. Army force planning.

    Jun 7, 2018

  • Report

    Lessons from Others for Future U.S. Army Operations in and Through the Information Environment: Case Studies

    Twelve detailed case studies examine of the activities and strategic goals of allies, adversaries, and potential adversaries in and through the information environment, highlighting insights for U.S. Army planning.

    Jun 7, 2018

  • A memorial for victims of a mass shooting sits outside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, June 22, 2015

    Commentary

    How Do You Define Terrorism?

    The term “terrorism” remains contested. What constitutes a terrorist attack? Moreover, should groups who incite hatred be held responsible for such attacks—and be labeled as terrorists—even if they don't directly participate in the violence?

    Jun 4, 2018

  • News Release

    3D Printing Could Disrupt Labor Markets and National Security

    While advances in additive manufacturing offer potential breakthroughs in prosthetic arms, jet engine parts, and a host of other products, 3D printing, as it is known, may also disrupt traditional labor markets and exacerbate existing security threats from violent actors.

    May 9, 2018

  • 3D printer and printable drone, gun, and airplane turbine.

    Article

    Four Ways 3D Printing May Threaten Security

    3D printing has the potential to improve lives. But it could also bring new perils, such as disrupting weapons regulations and jeopardizing manufacturing jobs. While there's reason to be cautious about this technology, there's also danger in overreacting and overregulating what could be a new era of innovation.

    May 8, 2018

  • 3d printing in progress

    Report

    Additive Manufacturing in 2040: Powerful Enabler, Disruptive Threat

    If additive manufacturing—also called 3D printing—continues to develop along its current trends, it could profoundly alter the global economy, international security, and the organization of society.

    May 8, 2018

  • Destroyed buildings during sunset at the frontline in Raqqa, Syria, October 6, 2017

    Commentary

    Defeating the ISIS Nostalgia Narrative

    It is crucial that the United States and its coalition partners take into consideration and preempt the ISIS nostalgia narratives that may seek to define the group's legacy and prepare a foundation for its resurgence throughout the Middle East and beyond. The legacy ISIS should be remembered for is one of misery and despair.

    Apr 19, 2018

  • Syrian medical staff take part in a training exercise on how to treat victims of chemical weapons attacks, Gaziantep, Turkey, July 20, 2017

    Commentary

    Are Chemical Weapons Becoming a Tacitly Accepted Weapon of War?

    The international community should consider serious options to hold perpetrators of chemical attacks accountable and stop further attacks. These are not easy choices. But the alternative is accepting that long-held norms are crumbling, and the world is sliding back to a time when inhumane tools of war were common.

    Apr 18, 2018

  • Turkish flag flutters at Turkey's border gate with Syria, overlooking ruins of buildings destroyed during fighting with the Islamic State militants in Kobani, Syria, October 11, 2017

    Commentary

    Turkey's Double Standard: How Ankara's Actions Contradict Its Claims of Opposing the Islamic State

    Turkey wants to take credit for the demise of the Islamic State, insisting that Turkey's actions in northern Syria have helped lay the groundwork for a sustainable peace. But the evidence clearly suggests otherwise.

    Apr 13, 2018

  • A member of al Qaeda's Nusra Front near Idlib, Syria, December 2, 2014

    Commentary

    Do Terrorist Groups Really Die?

    The persistence of al Qaeda and ISIS underscores terrorist groups' adaptability in the 21st century. Both organizations maintain global, regional, and local influence in the face of immense pressure. As terrorist groups fall, the West should watch them closely to prevent a resurgence.

    Apr 9, 2018

  • News Release

    RAND Study Examines Ways U.S. Can Better Counter Political Warfare

    The United States needs to improve the ways it combats adversaries adept at using political warfare tactics to achieve their goals and undermine U.S. interests and allies.

    Apr 5, 2018

  • Chess board made out of a world map

    Report

    Countering Modern Political Warfare

    Both state and nonstate actors—including Russia, Iran, and ISIS—practice political warfare in unique ways. How can the United States, along with its allies and partners, respond to or engage in this type of conflict to protect U.S. interests?

    Apr 5, 2018

  • Turkish forces patrol an area in Afrin, Syria, March 22, 2018

    Commentary

    What's Turkey Trying to Achieve in Syria?

    Turkish President Erdoğan is attempting to cement his political legitimacy among Syrian Sunnis by portraying himself as their savior. If the United States withdraws from Syria after the mission to defeat ISIS is complete, it will essentially be ceding the advantage to Erdoğan, who can continue pushing his agenda.

    Apr 2, 2018

  • The flag outside the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands

    Commentary

    The Problem of Prosecuting International Jihadists

    The International Criminal Court may be the most ideal institution to try accused terrorists. The court would take into account the legal status of terrorists, the nationalities of their victims, and the location of the crimes — while upholding the core values of Western democracies.

    Mar 9, 2018

  • British mother Tareena Shakil, who took her 14-month-old son to Syria to join ISIS fighters, was jailed for six years on February 1, 2016

    Commentary

    Not All Returning 'Jihadi Brides' Are Dangerous

    Since the fall of the ISIS caliphate in late 2017, Western societies have expressed concern about the possibility of returning foreign fighters. It is not just returning men that worry governments. The prospect of women, known as “jihadi brides,” returning to the West, often with children born under ISIS rule, is also a potential problem.

    Feb 28, 2018