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.

  • 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.

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

    Report

    Terrorist Use of Cryptocurrencies

    Mar 27, 2019

    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.

Explore Terrorist Organizations

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

    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?

    Sep 5, 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

    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.

    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

  • Research Brief

    The Growing Need to Focus on Modern Political Warfare

    RAND researchers analyzed how political warfare is practiced today and identified ways that the U.S. government, its allies, and its partners can respond to or engage in this type of conflict to achieve U.S. ends and protect U.S. interests.

    May 31, 2019

  • A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces escorts a blindfolded civilian detainee suspected to be a member of Islamic State militants in Raqqa, October 12, 2017, photo by Issam Abdallah/Reuters

    Journal Article

    Options for Dealing with ISIS Foreign Fighters Detained in Syria

    The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are holding thousands of fighters who had joined ISIS's ranks from abroad as well as members of their families. What the world does (or does not do) about them could affect the future stability of the region and the countries from which they came.

    May 31, 2019

  • 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

  • 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