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

  • Fighters of the anti-government guerilla group UNITA parade under a portrait of their leader Jonas Savimbi, November 12, 1985, marking the 10th anniversary of Angolan Independence from Portugal

    Commercial Book

    Guide to Understanding Insurgency Warfare

    An exploration of the history and dynamics of 181 insurgencies since 1946 provides lessons for those fighting insurgent campaigns today in such countries as Syria, Libya, and Iraq.

    Nov 1, 2016

  • Iraqi special forces soldiers drive in a desert near Mosul, Iraq, October 25, 2016

    Commentary

    Can the Islamic State Lose Mosul and Still Win?

    The loss of Mosul would be a serious blow for the Islamic State but past insurgencies suggest it is far too early to count the Islamic State out.

    Oct 31, 2016

  • Al Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahri speaks from an unknown location in a still image taken from video uploaded to the web on June 8, 2011

    Commentary

    Al Qaeda's Ruthless Pragmatism Makes It More Dangerous Than the Islamic State

    Al Qaeda presents a graver long-term threat to the West than the Islamic State. It has proved more effective in exploiting U.S. policy in the Middle East to legitimize itself as an armed force and, increasingly, as a viable political player.

    Oct 27, 2016

  • A convoy of Iraqi security forces advances on the outskirts of Mosul, ready to fight Islamic State militants, October 12, 2016

    Commentary

    After the Battle for Mosul, Get Ready for ISIS to Go Underground

    Only once ISIS's underground network is defeated will there be a real chance for enduring security and stability in Mosul.

    Oct 18, 2016

  • A 3D printed logo of Twitter and an Islamic State flag

    Commentary

    Fighting the Islamic State on Social Media

    Countering ISIL in the real world also requires countering its messaging online. It is critical that the U.S. and its international partners work with influential communities in the region that can more effectively and credibly counter the ISIL narrative.

    Oct 11, 2016

  • World map concept with puzzle pieces

    Essay

    Election 2016: The International Issues

    America's next president will face challenges that test the fundamentals of world order. RAND experts have outlined key decisions, the dangers involved, and the least-bad options that now often pass for good ones.

    Oct 7, 2016

  • A tank is seen as fighters from Libyan forces allied with the U.N.-backed government take position during a battle with Islamic State militants in Sirte, Libya, September 22, 2016

    Commentary

    Keep Chemical Weapons Out of Terrorist Hands

    As the Islamic State group and the Nusra Front seized territory in Syria and northern Iraq, they came upon military sites with chemical munitions and industrial facilities with toxic chemicals. Reducing such opportunities should be a priority.

    Sep 27, 2016

  • A man arrives at the World Trade Center complex on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in New York City, September 11, 2016

    Testimony

    Fifteen Years After 9/11: A Preliminary Balance Sheet

    Fifteen years after 9/11, the United States is better organized and equipped to combat terrorism. But the country still faces a multi-tiered threat, and its citizens remain fearful.

    Sep 21, 2016

  • News Release

    Al Shabaab Weakened but Not Defeated in Somalia

    Efforts to weaken the al Qa'ida-linked terrorist group al Shabaab in Somalia have had some success, but the U.S. campaign there is in jeopardy. Urgent steps are needed to address the political, economic, and governance challenges at the heart of the conflict.

    Sep 13, 2016

  • New recruits belonging to Somalia's al-Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group march during a parade at a military training base in Afgoye, Somalia, February 17, 2011

    Report

    Al Shabaab Is Weakened but Not Defeated in Somalia

    Efforts to weaken the al Qa'ida-linked terrorist group al Shabaab in Somalia have had some success, but the U.S. campaign there is in jeopardy. Urgent steps are needed to address the political, economic, and governance challenges at the heart of the conflict.

    Sep 13, 2016

  • New York City Police Officer Danny Shea salutes at the National September 11 Memorial in New York, September 11, 2011

    Commentary

    September 11: The Day That Changed My Country (and My Career Path) Forever

    New York City native Colin Clarke discusses how terrorism has evolved since the September 11 attacks and how the tragedy motivated him to become a terrorism expert.

    Sep 11, 2016

  • The 'Tribute in Lights' shines on the skyline of lower Manhattan in New York City, September 11, 2006

    Commentary

    Fifteen Years After 9/11, What Is the State of the 'War on Terror'?

    Much has changed since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Counterterrorism efforts have made progress, and Americans are safer. But it's unclear how much further the fight against terrorism has to go.

    Sep 7, 2016

  • Women mourn the death of their relatives after an airstrike in the rebel held Bab al-Nairab neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria, August 25, 2016

    Commentary

    Why Syria's War May Be About to Get Even Worse

    Whether or not the Nusra Front's new name means a genuine break from al Qaeda, the rebranding could prolong Syria's civil war. The worst-case scenario is that the group enjoys longevity like that of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

    Aug 25, 2016

  • Syria Democratic Forces fighters inspect a center used by Islamic State religious police in Manbij, Aleppo Governorate, Syria, August 16, 2016

    Commentary

    Demystifying the Islamic State

    To counter the threat posed by the Islamic State group, it is crucial to understand what the terrorist organization is and what it is not. Attributing all jihadist violence to a ruthless gang headquartered in Raqqa exaggerates the power of the group and plays into their propaganda and recruiting efforts.

    Aug 23, 2016

  • U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the FY2016 budget at the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, February 2, 2015

    Commentary

    President Obama's Controversial Legacy as Counterterrorism-in-Chief

    There were no attacks like 9/11 during Obama's eight years in office. But there were plenty of terrorist adversaries. While he will be judged in part for his domestic achievements, Obama's counterterrorism choices are a major part of his legacy.

    Aug 22, 2016

  • Sami Dayan (center), an al Qaeda militant, is escorted by police in a courtroom holding cell in Sanaa, Yemen, April 22, 2014

    Commentary

    A Persistent and Resilient Adversary: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula

    The history of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula catalogues every dimension of frustration in combatting terrorism. But is it possible that the United States and its Gulf allies are finally getting the measure of AQAP?

    Aug 22, 2016

  • News Release

    U.S. Social Media Strategy Can Weaken ISIS Influence on Twitter

    On Twitter, there are six times more ISIS opponents than supporters, but those who support ISIS are more active. U.S. officials could help ISIS opponents enhance the effectiveness and reach of their messaging by offering social media training.

    Aug 16, 2016

  • The ISIS hashtag is seen typed into a Twitter smartphone app, February 6, 2016

    Report

    Examining ISIS Support and Opposition on Twitter

    ISIS uses Twitter to inspire followers, recruit fighters, and spread its message. Its opponents use Twitter to denounce the group. An analysis of the communities opposed to ISIS suggests inroads for influence that the U.S. government's social media strategy should explore.

    Aug 16, 2016

  • A New York City fireman calls for 10 more rescue workers to make their way into the rubble of the World Trade Center on September 15, 2001

    Commentary

    ISIS vs. Al Qaida: Battle of the Terrorist Brands

    Rather than thinking of defeating terrorists solely in traditional military terms, it might make sense to think of bankrupting them. It might help to consider the factors that cause luxury brands to lose their luster or big box retailers to fail.

    Aug 16, 2016

  • Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front fighters enter the back of a pick-up truck in Arsal, Lebanon, December 1, 2015

    Commentary

    What's in a Name? The Rebranding of the Nusra Front

    Jabhat al-Nusra, which recently announced that it was severing its affiliation with al Qaeda, is now Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. This means less than meets the eye, but it does say something about the local atmosphere in Syria.

    Aug 8, 2016