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

    Jun 6, 2022

    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?

  • 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

    May 31, 2022

    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.

Explore Terrorist Organizations

  • U.S. Capitol Building, Washington, D.C.

    Blog

    A Summer Reading List for Congress

    To help Hill staffers make the most of the Congressional recess, RAND has developed a list of must-read research and commentaries that will help ensure policymakers will return ready to hit the ground running.

    Aug 2, 2016

  • Report

    Report

    Authorities for Military Operations Against Terrorist Groups: The State of the Debate and Options for Congress

    U.S. counterterrorism operations rely on authorizations from 2001 and 2002. This report surveys the debate over requirements for a new authorization, the terrorist challenge, purposes and key elements of such legislation, and congressional options.

    Jul 22, 2016

  • Smoke rises after airstrikes from the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State militants in a village east of Mosul, Iraq, May 29, 2016

    Commentary

    Cutting the Islamic State's Money Supply

    Airstrikes have hit ISIL tanker trucks, oil fields, refineries, and banks, but it would be a mistake to view the group as a poor man's version of its old self. New steps are needed to counter its multi-million dollar taxation and extortion machine.

    Jul 21, 2016

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a cabinet meeting in Golan Heights, near the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria, April 17, 2016

    Report

    What Are Israel's Interests and Options in Syria?

    Israel has few good options for intervening in the Syrian conflict. Why? Because there is no likely outcome that would be more favorable to Israel than Syria's violent status quo.

    Jul 18, 2016

  • Staff Sgt. Todd Reinert, a motor transportation operations chief, guides soldiers through shooting drills prior to a live-fire range in Tiguet, Mauritania, Feb. 15, 2016.

    Commentary

    This Is the Problem with Trying to Destroy the Islamic State

    Would counterterrorism forces be better served by containing terrorist groups instead of attempting to destroy them? Dismantling and destroying the Islamic State and similar organizations is a worthy strategic goal, but policymakers must also be prepared to limit the effectiveness of splinter groups as they emerge in the aftermath.

    Jul 12, 2016

  • Students hold a placard and candles during a vigil after a terror attack on Dhaka, Bangladesh, in Agartala, India, July 3, 2016

    Commentary

    Is the Surge in Terrorist Attacks Coincidence or Coordinated Campaign?

    Whatever the investigations of recent terrorist attacks reveal, the facts may be portrayed (or ignored) to fit narratives written even before the blood has dried.

    Jul 11, 2016

  • Iraqi counterterrorism forces in Falluja after they recaptured the city from the Islamic State in June 2016

    Commentary

    To Defeat ISIL's Brand, Its Territory Must Be Reclaimed

    ISIL has been forced out of 56 places it once controlled, including five major cities. Taking its territory and diminishing its brand is required to reduce the group's operational capacity for carrying out or influencing local or distant attacks.

    Jul 8, 2016

  • Employees at Atatürk Airport attend a ceremony for their coworkers who were killed in an attack at the airport, Istanbul, Turkey, June 30, 2016

    Commentary

    The Response to Every Terrorist Attack Cannot Be Another Checkpoint

    The Istanbul attack will renew calls to extend security screening at the front doors of terminals. But checkpoints create bottlenecks and queues of people waiting to get through them, which then become an easy target.

    Jul 1, 2016

  • Soldiers from a force aligned with Libya's new unity government walk along a road during an advance on the eastern and southern outskirts of the Islamic State stronghold of Sirte, June 9, 2016

    Commentary

    All Eyes on Sirte: Beating the Islamic State, but Losing Libya

    At a time when the U.N.-sponsored Government of National Accord could be working to unite Libya's armed groups and promote political stability, it has instead become entwined in the race for Sirte.

    Jun 23, 2016

  • People take part in a candlelight memorial service the day after a mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, June 13, 2016

    Blog

    Orlando Nightclub Shooting: RAND Experts React

    RAND experts provide perspective on the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, what it likely means within the context of the campaign against ISIS, and more.

    Jun 15, 2016

  • Brazilian Army soldiers take part in a simulation of decontamination of multiple victims during a training against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear attacks ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympics, March 11, 2016

    Commentary

    ISIS and Dirty Bombs

    There has been growing concern that terrorists might use radiological sources to create a Radiological Dispersal Device (RDD). Calculations have shown that an attack would be unlikely to produce radioactive contamination sufficient to kill or even injure anyone, but there would be psychological and economic effects.

    Jun 3, 2016

  • Danish police search an apartment block in Ishoej, Denmark, for people suspected of having been recruited by the Islamic State, April 7, 2016

    Commentary

    Striking Back at the Islamic State's Foreign Fighter Pipeline

    Islamic State training camps are the breeding grounds of tomorrow's Brussels or Paris attacks, and their consistent penchant for training foreigners suggests that military and security officials need to get serious about how to deal with returnees from Iraq and Syria.

    May 31, 2016

  • A member of the Peshmerga forces inspects a tunnel used by Islamic State militants in the town of Sinjar, Iraq

    Commentary

    Islamic State May Be Down, but It's Far from Out

    The Islamic State's loss of territory, money, and recruits would seem to demonstrate significant progress by the U.S.-led coalition. But if there is one accepted truism in the battle against the group, it is that its leaders intend to fight to the death to establish an Islamic caliphate.

    May 23, 2016

  • News Release

    News Release

    Declassified Documents Provide Insight into Origins of the Islamic State and How to Defeat the Group

    Looking at more than 140 recently declassified documents from the predecessors of the Islamic State, it is evident that the group has been operating for years with remarkable continuity in its philosophy, methods, and goals, including the long-standing aspiration for creating a caliphate.

    May 19, 2016

  • Silhouettes of militants atop currency and a map of Iraq

    Report

    Foundations of the Islamic State

    A thorough examination of the Islamic State's history and practices is useful for designing a coordinated and effective campaign against it — and for understanding why the group might be able to survive such an effort and sustain itself in the future.

    May 18, 2016

  • The Sinjar Resistance Units, an offshoot of a leftist Kurdish organization, and Abdulkhaleq al-Jarba, a Arab tribal militia, have opened up a new front against Islamic State militants in northern Iraq, April 30, 2016

    Commentary

    Partitioning Iraq: Make a Detailed Case, or Cease and Desist

    The mostly non-Iraqi voices who want to divide the country into three ethno-sectarian cantonments—Shi'a, Sunni, and Kurd—owe the Iraqi people extensive, detailed clarification. If neither the Iraqi Arab polity nor Iraq's most powerful political factions seek three-way partition, then the case should be closed.

    May 16, 2016

  • Iraqi security forces hold an ISIS flag that they pulled down at the University of Anbar, in Anbar province, July 26, 2015

    Commentary

    In the Event of the Islamic State's Untimely Demise...

    If they haven't already, the Islamic State's leaders will soon formulate a contingency strategy, a “Plan B” that the West will then be forced to contend with.

    May 11, 2016

  • People react to the death of Osama bin Laden in Times Square in New York City, May 2, 2011

    Commentary

    Five Years After the Death of Osama bin Laden, Is the World Safer?

    What effect did killing bin Laden have on al Qaeda's ability to pursue its jihadist goals? Does high-value targeting contribute to counterterrorist strategy more broadly? Does killing terrorist leaders work?

    May 2, 2016

  • Afghan security forces keep watch after a suicide car bomb attack on a government security building in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 19, 2016

    Commentary

    The Taliban's Persistent Threat

    The United States and its NATO allies have been scaling back their military commitment in Afghanistan. The Taliban, in response, have been scaling up their operations, inflicting unprecedented heavy casualties on Afghan government forces and gaining increased control over much of the countryside.

    Apr 21, 2016

  • News Release

    News Release

    Countering Islamic State Requires a Stronger U.S.-Coalition Strategy

    While the campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has degraded the group by targeting its leadership and retaking a portion of territory, achieving lasting defeat of ISIL in Iraq and Syria will be elusive without local forces capable of holding territory.

    Apr 20, 2016