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

  • A man purported to be ISIS captive and Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh in front of armed men in a still image from an undated video filmed in an undisclosed location, made available on social media on February 3, 2015

    Q&A

    Experts React to ISIS's Gruesome Execution of Jordanian Pilot

    A grisly video released yesterday by ISIS appears to show Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh burned alive in a cage. Why the shift away from beheadings? What does the execution mean for Jordan? What implications will it have for ISIS?

    Feb 4, 2015

  • People holding mobile phones are silhouetted against a backdrop projected with the Twitter logo

    Commentary

    Decoding the Breach: The Truth About the CENTCOM Hack

    When ISIS hackers hijacked the Twitter account of U.S. Central Command on Jan. 12, they falsely claimed that they had hacked into U.S. military computers. While the incident was embarrassing, it was not concerning in operational military terms. It was, however, damaging to the counterinsurgency against ISIS.

    Feb 3, 2015

  • A K-9 police unit keeps watch as passengers make their way through Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport

    Commentary

    Improving Domestic Security to Combat Today's Terrorist Threats

    Today, the U.S. confronts a multilayered terrorist threat and the recent spate of attacks in Europe underscores the necessity for ensuring that intelligence keeps up with it. Intelligence services must continue to prevent terrorist assaults dispatched from abroad, head off new shoe and underwear bombers, intercept individuals returning from jihadist fronts with terrorist intentions, while at the same time uncovering and thwarting homegrown plots.

    Jan 30, 2015

  • Iraqi security forces guard during the building of a new road between Diyala province and Samarra December 21, 2014. The Badr Organization, a leading political party and militia with ties to Iran, is supervising the new road.

    Commentary

    Salvaging Iraq

    The Iranian government, particularly the Revolutionary Guards, is playing a huge role in helping the Iraqi security forces fight the Islamic State. Iraq and Iran share a 910-mile border that is mostly porous. Iraq's territorial integrity is critical for Iran too.

    Jan 26, 2015

  • French Muslims hold an Islamic flag and a banner reading "Do not touch my prophet, anything but the Messenger of Allah" as they gather in central Paris January 18, 2015

    Commentary

    Eight Lessons from the Charlie Hebdo Attack

    Among the lessons to be learned from the attacks in Paris are that terrorism has many audiences, Al-Qaida remains a threat, would-be warriors are unconcerned with the schisms among jihadist camps, Europe has a more serious problem, such an attack could happen in the U.S., and intelligence is crucial.

    Jan 23, 2015

  • Saudi border guards patrol Saudi Arabia's northern border with Iraq

    Commentary

    ISIS Aims to Occupy Mecca

    As ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi reaches for control of the holy sites in and around Mecca and Medina and the wealth that comes with them, the U.S., NATO, and others should consider providing significant equipment and know-how to shore up the border defenses of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Jordan.

    Jan 19, 2015

  • Multimedia

    Call with the Experts: Implications of the Paris Shootings

    In this excerpt from an exclusive RAND Policy Circle Call, RAND terrorism experts discuss the deadly shootings at the satirical news magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris that have raised fears of a larger, more coordinated form of religiously-motivated terrorism throughout Europe and the West.

    Jan 14, 2015

  • A woman with a French flag with the words 'I am Charlie' reacts while paying tribute to the victims of a shooting at the offices of French weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, during a candlelight vigil at the Liberty Square in Taipei, January 9, 2015

    Commentary

    Why al Qaeda in Yemen Attacked Paris

    The bloodshed in the Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was a startling reminder of al Qaeda's ambitions, capabilities, and ruthlessness. And whether or not the attack was planned as a marketing device to help al Qaeda emerge from the expanding shadow of the Islamic State, it may be having that effect.

    Jan 12, 2015

  • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif before a meeting in Vienna November 23, 2014

    Commentary

    An Iran Nuclear Deal Is Still Possible, and Here's Why

    The United States and other world powers returned to the negotiating table this week to try to finalize a nuclear agreement with Iran after announcing a seven-month extension in late November. How did the parties get this far?

    Dec 19, 2014

  • A hostage runs toward a police officer outside Lindt cafe, where other hostages are being held, in Martin Place, Sydney, December 15, 2014

    Blog

    Could the Sydney Café Siege Happen Elsewhere?

    As the world mourns those lost in the Sydney café siege, investigations have begun examining the efficacy of Australia's anti-terrorism measures and details about the background and motives of the gunman. At the same time, terrorism experts are reflecting on where else such an attack could emerge.

    Dec 17, 2014

  • Posters of a boy, killed in Shi'ite-Sunni violence, displayed on his grave in Sanaa, Yemen, November 17, 2014

    Commentary

    The Tortured Roots of Sectarian Violence

    The recent increase of sectarian terrorism is best understood as a product of the ancient Sunni-Shiite divide, the growth of modern-day extremist groups, the Iranian-Saudi rivalry, and the growing phenomenon of fractured states.

    Dec 12, 2014

  • An explosion following an air strike in central Kobani, Syria, November 9, 2014

    Commentary

    NATO's Campaign in Libya Offers Salient Lessons for the Air War Against ISIL

    The NATO air campaign that helped defeat Qaddafi's regime in Libya has received relatively little mention in public discussion of the ongoing air strikes against ISIS. But the campaign in Libya offers at least five lessons that deserve greater attention today.

    Nov 25, 2014

  • Militant Islamist fighters parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province

    Commentary

    When Jihadis Come Marching Home

    The existing pool of determined jihadists in America is very small and lacks training and experience, which fighting in Syria and Iraq would provide. Returning jihadi veterans would be more formidable adversaries. Still, the threat appears manageable using current U.S. laws and existing resources.

    Nov 19, 2014

  • Karen Elliott House, Brian Michael Jenkins, Dalia Dassa Kaye, James Dobbins, and Seth G. Jones at RAND's Politics Aside 2014

    Blog

    ISIS in Perspective

    While ISIS poses a threat to the U.S., violence from the group is not likely to be aimed directly at the American homeland any time soon, according to a panel of experts who discussed the Middle East at RAND's Politics Aside event. But an attack could be mounted against the U.S. if ISIS were to establish a nation from the territory it holds in Syria and Iraq.

    Nov 15, 2014

  • Militant Islamist fighters wave the ISIS flag atop a tank on the streets of northern Raqqa province, Syria, June 30, 2014

    Testimony

    Countering ISIL's Financing

    Stolen oil, extortion revenue, and access to international financial systems have enabled ISIL to build wealth. Helping Iraq and regional partners target financial facilitators and local revenue sources can reverse ISIL funding.

    Nov 13, 2014

  • Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells the 69th U.N. General Assembly on September 29 that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a far greater threat to the world than Islamic State militants

    Commentary

    Not to Worry, Israel

    Some Israelis worry that America's fight against the Islamic State is distracting from the Iranian nuclear challenge. But the idea that the U.S. would make additional concessions to Iran in the nuclear negotiations because of the anti-Islamic State group effort is not based on realities on the ground.

    Oct 23, 2014

  • Kurdish men, women, and children fleeing Syria to seek protection by the Turkish government as refugees

    Report

    Alternative Futures for Syria

    A December 2013 workshop evaluated possible outcomes from the Syrian civil war, but the period through August 2014 brought many changes. A reassessment of the workshop's findings shows that while a regime victory now appears to be likely, it would not be as big of a blow to ISIS due to the group's territorial gains in Iraq.

    Oct 22, 2014

  • Tank silhouette at sunset

    Commentary

    Destroy ISIL's Heavy Weapons and Vehicles: Level the Playing Field

    More than any other option, employing air power decisively to deny ISIL the ability to use its armor and artillery has the potential to immediately and dramatically shift the battlefield balance against it.

    Oct 20, 2014

  • Oil barrels under a clear, blue sky

    Commentary

    The Upside of Lower Oil Prices

    Movement toward sharply lower oil prices should be a prominent component of any strategy directed at disabling many of the world's most disruptive threats: Iran's nuclear development, ISIS, Hamas attacks on Israel, and Russia's threat to Ukraine.

    Oct 17, 2014

  • Smoke rises after a U.S.-led airstrike in Kobani, Syria, October 10, 2014

    Commentary

    Air Campaign Against ISIS Is Just Getting Off the Ground

    More than 60 countries have joined the coalition against ISIS, with at least 12 participating in the air campaign. Eventually, this will be an impressive armada, but the campaign is still in its first stage, and most of the coalition participants joined the effort only recently.

    Oct 17, 2014