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.

  • Two Air Force F-22 Raptors fly over Syria, February 2, 2018, while supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, photo by Staff Sgt. Colton Elliott/Air National Guard

    Report

    Airpower Was Indispensable to Defeating ISIS

    Feb 5, 2021

    Some argue that airpower could have been applied more vigorously in Operation Inherent Resolve to have more quickly defeated ISIS. Airpower was essential, but ground forces led by Iraqi and Syrian partners were needed to destroy the Islamic State as a territorial entity.

  • Smoke superimposed over a mass grave of ISIS fighters found in 2017 near Fallujah, Iraq, photos by Iraqi ministry of defence and Marina/Adobe Stock; design by Peter Soriano/RAND Corporation

    Report

    Who Are America's Jihadists?

    Sep 11, 2020

    U.S. residents who plotted to carry out jihadist attacks at home and those who traveled or attempted to travel to join jihadists abroad represent two dimensions of the terrorist threat. But both types are driven by internal motivations and circumstances as much as they are inspired by external groups.

Explore Terrorist Organizations

  • U.S. sailors assigned to Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command monitor, analyze, detect, and respond to unauthorized activity within U.S. Navy information systems and networks

    Commentary

    The Online Fight Against ISIS

    To prevail against ISIS in cyberspace, the United States and its cyber soldiers will have to be capable of reacting quickly, while being guided by an overarching strategy. Secretary of Defense Carter urged U.S. Cyber Command to intensify the fight against ISIS but it would also be wise to recruit civilian volunteers.

    Apr 1, 2016

  • Iraqi girls gesture peace signs after Iraqi security forces entered the town of Amerli, September 1, 2014

    Commentary

    Inciting Peace: Elevating Alternatives to ISIL's Message

    Malicious ideas, ideologies, and narratives (such as those promoted by ISIL) cannot just be eliminated — they need to be replaced.

    Mar 30, 2016

  • A street memorial outside the Maelbeek subway station following Tuesday's bombings in Brussels, Belgium, March 24, 2016

    Commentary

    What It Was Like Being in Brussels During the Terrorist Attacks

    Bearing witness to a terrorist attack was a startling and surreal experience, one that tragically drove home the need for an expanded knowledge base on terrorism and radicalization.

    Mar 28, 2016

  • People gather around a memorial in Brussels, Belgium following terrorist bombings, March 22, 2016

    Commentary

    Terror Attacks in Brussels: Insights from RAND Experts

    RAND experts weigh in on the timing of the deadly bombings in Brussels, why the attack was inevitable, Salah Abdeslam's arrest, and more.

    Mar 22, 2016

  • Map showing Syria and surrounding region

    Commentary

    How Real Is the ISIS Threat?

    In less than two years, ISIS's black flag has flown in a dozen countries outside of Syria and Iraq. And terrorist attacks have been carried out in its name in the West, including in America. But how serious is the threat that ISIS's brand of jihad will spread on a global scale?

    Mar 18, 2016

  • Protesters carry Al-Qaeda flags during an anti-government protest in the town of Marat Numan in Idlib province, Syria, March 11, 2016

    Commentary

    Could ISIS and Al Qaeda, Two Giants of Jihad, Unite?

    It could take a change in leadership in both Al Qaeda and ISIS and perhaps some compromises on mission and strategy, but there are enough points of confluence to make a united jihadist front a realistic and frightening possibility.

    Mar 14, 2016

  • An ISIS militant waves an ISIS flag in Raqqa, Syria, June 29, 2014

    Commentary

    Deterring ISIS's Ambitions

    Western leaders cannot discount the possibility that ISIS may attempt a chemical attack within their borders. They should look to the robust alliances, treaty regimes, and international organizations to which most of them already ascribe as one way to address this threat.

    Mar 7, 2016

  • An Islamic State flag is seen in this picture, taken February 18, 2016

    Commentary

    The Islamic State's Money Problems

    ISIS now faces considerable money problems. But despite the success of the coalition's counter-terrorist finance measures, it's too early to dismiss ISIS financially.

    Mar 5, 2016

  • Tunisian soldiers participate in an exercise along the frontier with Libya in Sabkeht Alyun, Tunisia, February 6, 2016

    Commentary

    Use Force to Forge Peace in Libya

    Five years after the uprising against Qaddafi and the civil war that followed, Libya is now home to the second-largest and fastest-growing Islamic State group affiliate outside Iraq and Syria. The U.S. and its allies need to step in to help restore Libyan sovereignty.

    Feb 17, 2016

  • Congressional Briefing Podcast

    Multimedia

    Lessening the Risk of Refugee Radicalization

    In this February 2016 congressional briefing, senior political scientist Barbara H. Sude discusses historical examples of radicalization among refugee groups, factors that can increase the risk of radicalization, measures to reduce the risk, and considerations for policymakers and legislators.

    Feb 16, 2016

  • Libya Dawn fighters watch Islamic State militant positions near Sirte March 19, 2015

    Commentary

    The Three Challenges of Countering ISIS in Libya

    ISIS's expansion in Libya is a threat to the security of Libyans, to the region, and to Europe. U.S. and European cooperation to counter ISIS is essential and Libya is unlikely to ever be peaceful without outside military support.

    Feb 5, 2016

  • Events @ RAND Audio Podcast

    Multimedia

    The Future of Isis

    In an exclusive conversation with RANDNext, RAND terrorism expert Brian Michael Jenkins discusses the future of ISIS.

    Jan 28, 2016

  • U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter stands with Col. Otto Liller as he is greeted by Iraqi Major General Falah al Mohamedawi (L) at the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service Academy in Baghdad, July 23, 2015

    Commentary

    Solving the Geometrical Problem of Terrorism

    Think of terror organizations as being composed of four elements, organized in concentric circles with the leaders at the center bull's eye, operational elements in the second ring, supporters in the third, and sympathizers in the fourth. Neutralizing each group will require different strategies.

    Jan 13, 2016

  • U.S. President Barack Obama waves at the conclusion of his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in Washington, January 12, 2016

    Blog

    State of the Union 2016: Insights on Obama's Last Address

    RAND research, analysis, and expertise provide context for many of the issues discussed in President Barack Obama's final State of the Union address, including the threat of ISIS, global climate change, and bringing peace to Syria.

    Jan 13, 2016

  • 152-mm howitzer 2A65 Msta-B in Saint-Petersburg Artillery museum

    Commentary

    Artillery Returns to the Battlefield in the War Against ISIL

    Together with increased air attacks, the Syrians and their Russian advisors seek to revitalize combined arms forces, and artillery is critical to their vision of such forces.

    Jan 11, 2016

  • Testimony

    Testimony

    The Role of Oil in ISIL Finances: Addendum

    Document submitted on January 6, 2016 as an addendum to testimony presented before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on December 10, 2015.

    Jan 6, 2016

  • A Kurdish refugee woman from Syria walks with her children at a refugee camp in Suruc, Turkey, November 17, 2014

    Report

    Lessening the Risk of Refugee Radicalization: Lessons from the Past

    Radicalization among refugee populations, such as the millions currently fleeing Syria, is not inevitable. Rather, comprehensive policies that go beyond immediate life-saving needs can mitigate the risk. But such policies were rare in past crises and even today can be difficult to put in place and sustain.

    Dec 28, 2015

  • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov before a meeting of Foreign Ministers about Syria in New York, December 18, 2015

    Commentary

    A Realistic Peace Plan for Syria Needs to Begin with an Immediate Cease-Fire

    To reach peace in Syria, the International Syria Support Group should concentrate on securing an immediate cease-fire and arranging for its enforcement, followed by further negotiations on the shape of a reconstituted Syrian state.

    Dec 18, 2015

  • Flowers and candles are displayed at a makeshift memorial after the December 2, 2015 shooting in San Bernardino, California

    Commentary

    How Terrorists Get Here

    Of 134 jihadist-inspired terrorists who have carried out or plotted attacks in the United States since 9/11, 96 were U.S. citizens and 19 others were legal permanent residents. While some level of comfort may be drawn from the fact that terrorists are not pouring into the country, there is no basis for complacency.

    Dec 18, 2015

  • Journal Article

    Journal Article

    Using Causal Models in Heterogeneous Information Fusion to Detect Terrorists

    We describe basic research that uses a causal, uncertainty-sensitive computational model rooted in qualitative social science to fuse disparate pieces of threat information.

    Dec 14, 2015