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

  • 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

  • Protesters from the online activist group Anonymous

    Commentary

    Anonymous vs. ISIS: Wishing the Vigilante Hackers Luck Against the Murderous Jihadists

    While ISIL uses the Internet to recruit fighters and incite violence, the Anonymous counter initiative could lower the volume of the online echo chamber, and yield support for the war against ISIL and its extremist ilk.

    Dec 14, 2015

  • News Release

    News Release

    New Book Outlines How French Strategies Prevented Al Qa'ida's Expansion in Mali

    France's 2013 military intervention in Mali to stop Al Qa'ida from advancing was quick, effective, and relatively low cost. What France accomplished offers lessons for the fight against terrorist groups in Africa and worldwide.

    Dec 10, 2015

  • A French soldier stands guard in an armoured vehicle in the Terz valley, in northern Mali, March 21, 2013

    Commercial Book

    The French War on Al Qa'ida in Africa

    France's 2013 military intervention in Mali to stop Al Qa'ida from advancing was quick, effective, and relatively low cost. What France accomplished offers lessons for the fight against terrorist groups in Africa and worldwide.

    Dec 10, 2015

  • Barrels of fuel are displayed inside a damaged, non-functioning petrol station in Aleppo, Syria, January 13, 2015

    Testimony

    The Role of Oil in ISIL Finances

    Sales of oil and refined oil products are the most important single source of recurrent revenues for ISIL. Targeting ISIL's oil loading facilities and heavy trucks can weaken the group, but this alone will not lead to its demise.

    Dec 10, 2015

  • The logos of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security are seen on computer terminals

    Testimony

    Jihadist Conspirators in the United States

    A review of how terrorists arrived in the United States in the past can help the government prioritize its efforts and resources. But it may not be a reliable indicator of how terrorist organizations could attempt to bring violence to America in the future.

    Dec 10, 2015

  • Soldiers from 7th Special Forces Group Airborne are suspended by a CH-47 Chinook helicopter during a training event Eglin Air Force Base, February 5, 2013

    Commentary

    ISIS vs Special Ops

    However critical to the fight against ISIS, using special operations forces for raids represents only half of the needed military adjustment. The other half is the effort to build indigenous forces capable of taking and holding territory in Iraq and Syria.

    Dec 8, 2015

  • News Release

    News Release

    New Congressional Authorization Needed Against Evolving Terrorist Threats

    The existing authorization given to the U.S. military to conduct counterterrorism operations is ill suited to defeat international terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

    Dec 7, 2015

  • Marines scan the area for insurgent activity during a general support flight over Helmand province, Afghanistan

    Commentary

    To Defeat ISIS, Focus on Its Real Sources of Strength

    The threat ISIS poses today is graver than ever for two reasons: its war chest and its ability to attract foreign recruits are both at their peak. Redoubling international efforts to cut off ISIS from these two pillars of its war machine is necessary to sap the group's strength.

    Dec 4, 2015

  • A Syrian refugee carries his son through a rainstorm at the Greek-Macedonian border near the Greek village of Idomeni, November 27, 2015

    Commentary

    To Undermine ISIS, We Should Welcome Syrian Refugees

    Demonstrating American goodwill to Syrian refugees is the best way to help defeat ISIS and rehabilitate America's image in the chaotic Middle East.

    Dec 3, 2015

  • President Francois Hollande delivers a speech for the 70th General Conference of UNESCO in Paris, France, November 17, 2015

    Commentary

    France Is Right to Stay the Course

    President Hollande announced that 30,000 Syrian refugees would be welcomed in France, honoring the commitment France made to its European partners before the Paris attacks. Altering its policy would only give the terrorists what they want.

    Nov 25, 2015

  • Migrants walk toward the Austrian border town of Spielfeld, in Sentilj, Slovenia, November 18, 2015

    Testimony

    The Syrian Refugee Crisis and U.S. National Security

    America has a long tradition of offering protection to refugees, and the threat from refugees has historically been relatively low. However, the government should continue to reassess its refugee program and ensure that it safeguards national security.

    Nov 19, 2015

  • A passerby pauses near a makeshift memorial with U.S. and French flags outside the French embassy in Washington, November 16, 2015

    Testimony

    What the Paris Attacks Mean for U.S. Strategy in Syria and Homeland Security

    Events in the Middle East and Europe have direct implications for U.S. homeland security. And the attacks in Paris have increased pressure to step up the fight in Syria and Iraq. But Americans should consider the threat in context, and adjustments to U.S. strategy in Syria should only be a matter of degrees.

    Nov 19, 2015

  • Multimedia

    The Paris Terror Attacks and Confronting ISIS

    In this Call with the Experts, RAND terrorism expert Brian Michael Jenkins offers insights on ISIS's latest strategy and capabilities, how the West can fight it, and what the tragedy in Paris could mean for the Syrian refugee crisis.

    Nov 18, 2015

  • A tank of the Syrian National Army in the outskirts of Damascus on September 21, 2013

    Testimony

    The Dynamics of the Conflicts in Syria and Iraq and the Threat Posed by Homegrown Terrorists and Returning Western Fighters

    The fighting in Iraq and Syria is likely to continue. How will the dynamics of these conflicts shape the region and events beyond? And what threat do Westerners who've joined jihadists on these battlefields and homegrown terrorists pose to the U.S. homeland?

    Nov 18, 2015

  • Islamic State fighters take part in a military parade along the streets of northern Raqqa province, Syria, June 30, 2014

    Commentary

    ISIS Will Become More Deadly Before It Dies

    The lesson with ISIS is straightforward. Western populations should be prepared for an upsurge in violence if ISIS continues to lose territory. There has already been a growth in attacks and plots across the West with operational or inspirational ties to ISIS.

    Nov 18, 2015

  • French Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem (L), French President Francois Hollande (C), French Prime Minister Manuel Valls (R), and students observe a moment of silence at the Sorbonne University, Paris, France, November 16, 2015

    Commentary

    Insights on the Paris Terror Attacks from RAND Experts

    RAND experts weigh in on what the wave of coordinated terror attacks across Paris means for France, the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, the global refugee crisis, and more.

    Nov 17, 2015