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 French soldier from Operation Barkhane rides in an armoured vehicle in Timbuktu, November 5, 2014

    Commentary

    The French Way of War

    There is a French way of warfare that reflects the French military's lack of resources and its modest sense of what it can achieve. They specialize in carefully apportioned and usually small but lethal operations, often behind the scenes.

    Nov 17, 2015

  • French police stand guard outside a commercial center in Nice, November 14, 2015, the day after a series of deadly attacks in Paris

    Commentary

    Why the Paris Terrorists Couldn't Be Stopped

    Terrorists almost always have the advantage. Theoretically, they can attack anything, anywhere, anytime. And governments cannot protect everything, everywhere, all the time.

    Nov 16, 2015

  • The dome of the U.S. Capitol is seen as flags fly at half staff at the Washington Monument, November 16, 2015

    Commentary

    Time to Prepare for the Unthinkable

    Given ISIS's strategy, it seems only a matter of time before these extremists might attempt an attack in the United States. The irony is that the very rights that Americans hold so dear — liberty, privacy, freedom — place it at greater risk. So what should America do to prepare?

    Nov 16, 2015

  • Candles in the French national colours are placed near the Bataclan concert hall the morning after a series of deadly attacks in Paris, November 14, 2015

    Commentary

    Big Questions Facing France

    In Paris, the heavily armed terrorists reportedly struck at six locations, including restaurants, a football stadium, and a theater during a rock concert. It seems clear the killers must have had some confederates. That would mean some terrorists are still at large.

    Nov 14, 2015

  • Egypt's Prime Minister Sherif Ismail (right) listens to rescue workers as he looks at the remains of a Russian airliner after it crashed in central Sinai, north Egypt, October 31, 2015

    Commentary

    Passing Judgment on Russian Plane Crash Before the Facts Are In

    A bright flash and catastrophic event suggest an explosion, but do not necessarily exclude the possibility of a mechanical failure. This would not, in fact, be the first time evidence pointed to a terrorist attack when none existed.

    Nov 12, 2015

  • The remains of a Russian airliner that crashed are found near Al-Arish, Egypt, October 31, 2015

    Commentary

    Could the Russian Jet Crash in Egypt Prompt a Change of Direction for Putin and Russia?

    If ISIS was responsible for the downing of Metrojet Flight 9268, a Russian passenger jet, this may alter the strategic equation for Moscow.

    Nov 9, 2015

  • A schoolgirl walks past damaged buildings in Maarrat al-Numan, Syria, October 28, 2015

    Commentary

    Partition Syria to Crush the Islamic State

    The Islamic State will never join in any settlement. Peace in Syria therefore requires that everyone else stop fighting each other and join in suppressing the Islamic State.

    Nov 1, 2015

  • Syrian President al-Assad made a surprise visit to Moscow on October 20, 2015, to thank Russian President Putin for launching air strikes against Islamist militants in Syria

    Commentary

    Five Options for the U.S. in Syria

    How should the United States respond to Russia's intervention in Syria's civil war? Here are five options intended to encourage rational thinking based upon realistic presumptions, not media or campaign-driven hype.

    Oct 21, 2015

  • Cameroonian soldiers in Mabass, northern Cameroon, where Boko Haram militants kidnapped 80 people on January 18, 2015

    Commentary

    A Good Move in Cameroon

    President Obama's decision to deploy 300 soldiers to Cameroon to help combat the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram is welcome news. The U.S. is stepping in at the right time, in the right way, by providing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support that will greatly enhance Cameroon's and others' chances.

    Oct 18, 2015

  • Men search for survivors at a site hit by shelling in Damascus, Syria, June 16, 2015

    Q&A

    A No-Fly Zone Over Syria: Q&A with Karl Mueller

    Some are advocating a no-fly zone in Syria to protect civilians from both ISIS and forces loyal to Assad. What constraints complicate establishing a no-fly zone and realizing its expected benefits? And how might Assad supporters, such as Russia, respond?

    Oct 15, 2015

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, September 30, 2015

    Commentary

    What Is Putin Really Up to in Syria?

    Russia wants to be sure that it's not ignored if and when the West succeeds in implementing a broader, more effective solution to the Syria-Iraq-ISIL problem. This is a task far beyond Russia's capabilities, but one that America, the West, and regional powers may be able to accomplish.

    Oct 2, 2015

  • News Release

    News Release

    Family Is Greatest Factor That Causes Youth to Reject Violent Extremism

    Family influence is more important than peer groups in dampening a young person's propensity toward becoming a terrorist. Policies aimed at undermining radicalization should include teaching parents how to discuss detrimental messages on social media, as well as building programs to strengthen families' influence on youth and ties to communities.

    Sep 29, 2015

  • Palestinians watch Israeli heavy machinery demolishing vacant apartment blocs by order of Israel's high court, in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Beit El near Ramallah July 29, 2015

    Report

    Family Is Greatest Factor That Causes Youth to Reject Violent Extremism

    Family influence is more important than peer groups in dampening a young person's propensity toward becoming a terrorist. Policies aimed at undermining radicalization should include teaching parents how to discuss detrimental messages on social media, as well as building programs to strengthen families' influence on youth and ties to communities.

    Sep 29, 2015

  • News Release

    News Release

    Coalition Against the Islamic State Must Degrade the Group's Finances and Leadership

    Even before 2012, much was known about how the Islamic State financed and organized itself, established territorial control, and responded to airpower. That knowledge offers new insights into the group's weaknesses and guidance for combating it.

    Sep 28, 2015

  • Fighters of al-Qaeda linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant carry their weapons during a parade at the Syrian town of Tel Abyad January 2, 2014

    Report

    Coalition Against the Islamic State Must Degrade the Group's Finances and Leadership

    Even before 2012, much was known about how the Islamic State financed and organized itself, established territorial control, and responded to airpower. That knowledge offers new insights into the group's weaknesses and guidance for combating it.

    Sep 28, 2015

  • Members of the Kurdish peshmerga forces detain a man suspected of having links to the Islamic State, on the outskirts of Kirkuk March 15, 2015

    Commentary

    Any Review of Syria and Iraq Strategy Needs Realistic Reappraisal

    Since the American-led coalition bombing campaign began a year ago, ISIS has suffered some military setbacks and lost territory, but it also has been able to capture several more key cities in Iraq and Syria, and, despite the bombing, continues to attract a large number of foreign fighters.

    Sep 28, 2015

  • News Release

    News Release

    U.S. Faces Gap Between Objectives and Reality in Syria and Iraq

    There is a substantial gap between American national objectives and a realistic appreciation of the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq. These objectives need to be based on frank appraisals of the situation, even if those assessments defy Americans' sense of progress.

    Sep 24, 2015

  • Iraqi volunteers fix weapons for the Hashid Shaabi militia at a shop on the outskirts of Basra, June 16, 2015

    Report

    The United States Faces a Gap Between Objectives and Reality in Syria and Iraq

    There is a large gap between U.S. objectives and a realistic appreciation of the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq. Frank appraisals of the situation in the region must inform U.S. objectives, even if such assessments defy Americans' sense of progress.

    Sep 24, 2015

  • Iraqi soldiers fire at paper targets during the opening of the Anbar Operation Center's shooting range in Ramadi, Iraq, September 10, 2011

    Commentary

    Vietnam Teaches Us That Iraq Needs More Than U.S. Combat Advisers

    There are issues that must be examined, understood, and planned for if the United States does not wish to have U.S. advisers left to the cruelties of the Islamic State.

    Sep 14, 2015

  • A chlorine-tinged cloud of smoke rises from a bomb detonated by Iraqi army and Shi'ite fighters in the town of al-Alam in Salahuddin province, March 10, 2015

    Commentary

    ISIS Plus Chemical Weapons Does Not Equal Apocalypse

    The renewed use of chemical weapons on the battlefields of Iraq and Syria is a dangerous regional phenomenon, not an imminent global threat.

    Sep 11, 2015