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.

  • Armed fighters over a background of Syrian, Iraqi, and U.S. currencies and gold ingots, photos by zabelin, Cimmerian, Vitoria Holdings LLC, and johan10/Getty Images

    Report

    U.S. Efforts Are Essential to Counter an Islamic State Comeback

    Aug 8, 2019

    The Islamic State can no longer rely on local funding sources as it did when it controlled territory. But as an insurgency, its expenses are far lower. With revenue from criminal activities and the cash it hoarded, the group will survive as a clandestine terrorist movement. Counterfinance, intelligence, and possibly military action will be needed.

  • Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front fighters carry weapons on the back of pick-up trucks in Arsal, eastern Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, December 1, 2015, photo by Stringer/Reuters

    Commentary

    Al Qaeda Is Ready to Attack You Again

    Sep 5, 2019

    As al Qaeda continues to evolve, one of the most pressing questions is to what extent the group is still focused on attacking the West. Does the absence of spectacular attacks attributed to al Qaeda since 9/11 represent a lack of capability or merely a shift in priorities?

Explore Terrorist Organizations

  • Beirut Madinati candidates and activists after announcing their list of candidates for the municipality elections in Beirut, Lebanon, April 22, 2016

    Report

    Countering Sectarianism in the Middle East

    Scholars and policymakers have sought to understand what drives sectarianism in the Middle East and its relationship to multiple conflicts. Far less attention has been focused on how communities inoculate themselves from sectarianism or recover from it.

    Jan 14, 2019

  • Beirut Madinati candidates and delegates cheer

    Research Brief

    Middle Eastern Communities Can Resist Sectarianism

    Sectarian violence in the Middle East has been destructive, but it is still the exception rather than the norm. Communities are generally resilient to the worst sectarian impulses. Lessons from Lebanon, Bahrain, Syria, and Iraq show that there are a range of actions that can curb sectarianism.

    Jan 14, 2019

  • Syrian Democratic Forces and U.S. troops are seen during a patrol near Turkish border in Hasakah, Syria, November 4, 2018

    Commentary

    America's Absence Could Be Syria's New Nightmare

    President Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria reverses his administration's recent policy of retaining them as long as Iranian troops stay. U.S. withdrawal would give Bashar al-Assad, Iran, and Russia freer rein to subdue opposition forces. And Assad could feel emboldened to act with greater impunity and brutality.

    Jan 10, 2019

  • A soldier stands guard near a poster of Syria's President Bashar al Assad and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Rastan, Syria, June 6, 2018

    Commentary

    Confusion Over the U.S. Withdrawal from Syria

    Washington's strategy in Syria has been to impose costs on the Syrian government by diplomatic ostracism and economic sanctions. This punitive approach is morally satisfying and politically expedient, but as a practical matter it just helps perpetuate the conflict and sustain Assad's dependency on Iran.

    Jan 9, 2019

  • Popular Mobilisation Forces fighters ride in a tank near the Iraqi-Syrian border in al-Qaim, Iraq, November 26, 2018

    Commentary

    Withdrawing from Syria Leaves a Vacuum That Iran Will Fill

    President Trump's decision to withdraw American troops from Syria may be unintentionally signaling that the United States is unwilling to compete in critical geopolitical hotspots. Such a message could embolden powerful states—including Iran—to expand their presence.

    Jan 8, 2019

  • A Turkish-backed Syrian rebel rides on a truck with a mounted weapon at Manbij countryside, Syria, December 28, 2018

    Commentary

    The United States Can't Rely on Turkey to Defeat ISIS

    Relying on Turkey to shoulder the burden of countering the Islamic State will provide the terrorist group with an opportunity to revive itself at a critical stage in the fight. Turkey's main focus is on the Kurds and Erdogan's opposition. Eradicating the Islamic State is a secondary priority that has often been ignored.

    Jan 2, 2019

  • Collage of 2018 most popular commentary images

    Blog

    Most Popular RAND Blog Commentary of 2018

    RAND experts publish hundreds of pieces of RAND Blog commentary every year, weighing in on pressing policy questions, breaking down current events, and untangling complex trends. To look back on some of the policy stories that defined the year, we've rounded up the RAND Blog pieces that resonated most with rand.org visitors.

    Dec 20, 2018

  • Collage of 2018 best RAND video images

    Multimedia

    Best RAND Videos of 2018

    RAND research yields findings that run the gamut of potential applications and promising policy solutions. Here, we highlight three of 2018's most captivating videos featuring RAND research and its potential to inform policy.

    Dec 19, 2018

  • News Release

    Islamic State Proves Greater Draw for U.S.-Born Recruits Than al Qaeda

    The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been more successful than its predecessor organization, al Qaeda, in drawing Americans to its cause. Whereas al-Qaeda was more reliant on preexisting connections to the region or Islam, an ISIL candidate recruit is more likely to be younger, less educated, and a U.S.-born citizen.

    Dec 18, 2018

  • Police officials stand on the sidewalk as cars drive on the road in front of the Pulse night club, following a shooting in Orlando, Florida, June 21, 2016

    Report

    Trends in the Draw of Americans to Foreign Terrorist Organizations from 9/11 to Today

    The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been more successful than its predecessor organization, al Qaeda, in drawing Americans to its cause. Americans drawn to ISIL are more likely to be younger, less educated, Caucasian/white or African American/black, and to have been born in the United States.

    Dec 18, 2018

  • An Islamic State flag flies over the custom office of Syria's Jarablus border gate near the Turkish town of Karkamis, in Gaziantep province, Turkey, August 1, 2015

    Commentary

    The Future of the Global Jihadist Movement After the Collapse of the Caliphate

    The future of the global jihadist movement is likely to resemble its past, with groups of militants dispersing to new battlefields, from North Africa to Southeast Asia. The Islamic State could become even more dangerous and challenging for counterterrorism forces, as its splinter groups threaten renewed and heightened violence throughout the globe.

    Dec 11, 2018

  • A smartphone showing the Islamic State logo in front of a screen showing the Telegram logo in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, November 18, 2015

    Commentary

    ISIS's Social Media Use Poses a Threat to Stability in the Middle East and Africa

    The importance of social media in projecting violent extremist propaganda and recruiting foreign fighters is well documented. As ISIS attempts to regroup and recuperate, investigating its use of information and communication technologies could be important to understanding the group's plans to regain territorial control.

    Dec 11, 2018

  • Journal Article

    Social Media in Africa: A Double-Edged Sword for Security and Development: Research Brief

    The United Nations Development Programme commissioned RAND Europe to explore social media use and its links to online radicalisation in Africa. The study analysed the social media use of three Islamist terrorist groups across seven countries.

    Nov 5, 2018

  • Journal Article

    Social Media in Africa: A Double-Edged Sword for Security and Development

    The United Nations Development Programme commissioned RAND Europe to explore social media use and its links to online radicalisation in Africa. The study analysed the social media use of three Islamist terrorist groups across seven countries.

    Nov 5, 2018

  • Journal Article

    Social Media in Africa: A Double-Edged Sword for Security and Development

    The United Nations Development Programme commissioned RAND Europe to explore social media use and its links to online radicalisation in Africa. The study analysed the social media use of three Islamist terrorist groups across seven countries.

    Nov 5, 2018

  • Journal Article

    Social Media in Africa: A Double-Edged Sword for Security and Development: Technical Annex

    An annex of supporting information for the report, containing thematic content in relation to the countries examined and the three case study terrorist groups analysed, alongside content relating to the Twitter data analysis and interviews conducted.

    Nov 5, 2018

  • A destroyed building with a wall painted with the black flag commonly used by Islamic State militants, is seen in the town of al-Alam, Iraq, March 10, 2015

    Commentary

    ISIS's New Plans to Get Rich and Wreak Havoc

    Although the Islamic State has lost nearly 98 percent of the territory it once controlled, it is ripe for a comeback in Sunni-majority areas of Iraq and Syria. The group has proven that it is capable of making money even without controlling large population centers.

    Oct 10, 2018

  • Kurdish fighters from the People's Protection Units (YPG) run across a street in Raqqa, Syria, July 3, 2017

    Commentary

    The Power of Affiliates: Which ISIS Franchise Could Become the Most Capable?

    With ISIS's caliphate in ruins, one of its affiliates could grow to become even deadlier and more capable than the core organization was during its peak. And with franchise groups and affiliates across the globe, there's no shortage of contenders to supplant ISIS as the world's most dangerous terrorist group.

    Oct 9, 2018

  • A student walks along a damaged street in the town of Kafr Batna, in eastern Ghouta, Syria, September 5, 2018

    Commentary

    Why We Should Measure the Economic Impact of Terrorism in the Middle East

    Though physical impacts of terrorism in the Middle East should be the main focus of counterterrorism efforts, financial impacts should not be ignored. Officials could help mitigate devastating economic effects by identifying and protecting essential regional revenue streams like tourism and oil.

    Sep 24, 2018

  • Multimedia

    An Overview of Current Trends in Terrorism and Illicit Finance

    An overview of testimony by Colin P. Clarke presented before the House Financial Services Committee, Subcommittee on Terrorism and Illicit Finance on September 7, 2018.

    Sep 7, 2018