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

  • Research Brief

    Research Brief

    The Growing Need to Focus on Modern Political Warfare

    RAND researchers analyzed how political warfare is practiced today and identified ways that the U.S. government, its allies, and its partners can respond to or engage in this type of conflict to achieve U.S. ends and protect U.S. interests.

    May 31, 2019

  • A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces escorts a blindfolded civilian detainee suspected to be a member of Islamic State militants in Raqqa, October 12, 2017, photo by Issam Abdallah/Reuters

    Journal Article

    Options for Dealing with ISIS Foreign Fighters Detained in Syria

    The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are holding thousands of fighters who had joined ISIS's ranks from abroad as well as members of their families. What the world does (or does not do) about them could affect the future stability of the region and the countries from which they came.

    May 31, 2019

  • Supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah leader holding pictures of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Beirut, Lebanon, October 11, 2016, photo by Aziz Taher/Reuters

    Commentary

    Iran's Network of Fighters in the Middle East Aren't Always Loyal to Iran

    Iran's nonstate partners are emerging as central players in the escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran, and may be a driver of further escalation. But how involved is Iran with these proxy groups?

    May 21, 2019

  • Damaged artifacts inside the museum of the historic city of Palmyra, Syria, March 27, 2016, photo by SANA/Reuters

    Commentary

    We're Just Beginning to Grasp the Toll of the Islamic State's Archaeological Looting in Syria

    During the Islamic State's rise, looted artifacts were said to be a significant source of income for the group. But no one had identified the value, using empirical data and systematic calculations, of the artifacts that were known to exist in Syria's archaeological sites. Until now.

    May 15, 2019

  • Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces with a captured ISIS flag in Raqqa, Syria, August 14, 2017, photo by Zohra Bensemra/Reuters

    Commentary

    Baghdadi Resurfaces: What It Means for ISIS's Global Terror Campaign

    With last week's release of a video of Abu Bakr Baghdadi, ISIS showed that it's still got some life left—literally. The most important message to take away from the Baghdadi video may be that the Islamic State does not need territory to survive and even thrive.

    May 6, 2019

  • Security personnel stand guard in front of St. Anthony's Shrine, days after a string of suicide bomb attacks across the island on Easter Sunday, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 29, 2019, photo by Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

    Commentary

    Sri Lanka's Easter Attacks: Dismantling Myths to Prevent the Next Attack

    On Easter Sunday, suicide bombers hit six locations across Sri Lanka, killing more than 250 people. Even before ISIS claimed responsibility, there was no obvious connection to the quarter-century of violence that afflicted the nation until 2009. It is worth dismantling a few myths that might prevent better preparation for future attacks.

    May 6, 2019

  • Blog

    Mueller Report, ISIS Leader, Brexit: RAND Weekly Recap

    This weekly recap focuses on how the Mueller report might affect Russia, the emergence of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, uncertainty over Brexit, and more.

    May 3, 2019

  • A bearded man appearing to be Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi speaks in a video released April 29, 2019, photo by Islamic State Group/Al Furqan Media Network/Reuters TV

    Commentary

    What the Baghdadi Video Means

    For the first time in five years, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the reclusive leader of ISIS, appeared on video. Why did he suddenly feel the need to show his face and speak to his followers? The answer concerns how recent events intersect with ISIS's long-term needs.

    Apr 30, 2019

  • Blog

    School Reform, Sanctions, Russian Aggression: RAND Weekly Recap

    This weekly recap focuses on what educators think about school reform, the devastating impacts of economic sanctions, deterring Russian aggression in the Baltics, and more.

    Apr 19, 2019

  • Blog

    Medicare for All, Principals, Cigarette Labels: RAND Weekly Recap

    This weekly recap focuses on spending estimates under Medicare for All, the benefits of “principal pipelines,” graphic warning labels on cigarettes, and more.

    Apr 12, 2019

  • Mock Bitcoins are displayed in Berlin, January 7, 2014, photo by Pawel Kopczynski/Reuters

    Report

    Terrorist Use of Cryptocurrencies

    Counterterrorism finance strategies have reduced terrorist access to official currencies. Will terrorist groups therefore increase their use of digital cryptocurrencies? New ones have emerged, including some that claim to be more private and secure than Bitcoin, but they also have limitations that make them less viable.

    Mar 27, 2019

  • Members of al Qaeda's Nusra Front walk along a street in the northwestern city of Ariha, after a coalition of insurgent groups seized the area in Idlib province, May 29, 2015, photo by Abed Kontar/Reuters

    Commentary

    How Terrorist Groups Learn: Implications for al Qaeda

    With the Islamic State losing the last of its territory, the global jihadist movement is now entering a new phase. The question on the minds of many is whether al Qaeda will be able to capitalize upon the moment and reclaim the dominant position as the most capable Sunni jihadist terrorist organization.

    Mar 14, 2019

  • Soldiers assigned to the 101st Resolute Support Sustainment Brigade load onto a helicopter to head out and execute missions across Afghanistan, Jan. 15, 2019, photo by 1st Lt. Verniccia Ford/U.S. Department of Defense

    Commentary

    Trump's Latest Move on Afghanistan Is a Repeat of Obama's

    So far, both Presidents Obama and Trump have chosen “not to lose” in Afghanistan. As time goes on and the American public's patience grows shorter, this choice becomes more difficult.

    Mar 11, 2019

  • Blog

    ISIS, Women's Day, Army Privates: RAND Weekly Recap

    This weekly recap focuses on what to do about ISIS detainees, stories from the Army's junior ranks, International Women's Day, and more.

    Mar 8, 2019

  • Soldiers in military gear are silhouetted against the setting sun.

    Multimedia

    Strategic Rethink: America's Security Deficit

    The global security landscape is shifting dramatically. How can the United States protect itself in today's tumultuous world? This video provides an overview of findings from the second volume in RAND's Strategic Rethink series, which recommends a suite of options that could help policymakers ensure that resources remain aligned with strategic demands.

    Mar 7, 2019

  • Man in handcuffs sits at a table with scales of justice, photo by djedzura/Getty Images

    Commentary

    Leaving ISIS Detainees in the Desert Doesn't Serve U.S. Interests

    Leaving ISIS detainees in the desert may sound like an apt punishment, but it's dangerous. Repatriation and prosecution could help ensure ISIS volunteers don't scatter to other jihadist fronts.

    Mar 5, 2019

  • People arrive at Al Hidayah, a youth camp at Warwick University in Coventry, central England, August 9, 2009, photo by Kieran Doherty/Reuters

    Commentary

    To Ensure Deradicalisation Programmes Are Effective, Better Evaluation Practices Must First Be Implemented

    Given the increasing number of ISIS foreign fighters seeking re-entry into the UK, a better understanding of deradicalisation programs is essential. More robust and transparent evaluation processes for intervention programmes should be implemented before confidence in their effectiveness can be established.

    Mar 4, 2019

  • U.S. military advisers from the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade walk at an Afghan National Army base in Maidan Wardak province, Afghanistan, August 6, 2018, photo by James Mackenzie/Reuters

    Commentary

    Don't Rush Into Afghan Peace

    The Trump administration has reportedly offered to withdraw forces from Afghanistan if the Taliban stops fighting and opens negotiations with the government. If the Taliban agrees to a cease-fire and wider negotiations, it will be an accomplishment to celebrate. But it will be only the first step on a long and difficult road to peace.

    Mar 1, 2019

  • Blog

    Shutdown, Hezbollah, Border Wall: RAND Weekly Recap

    This weekly recap focuses on Americans' financial fragility, Hezbollah in Venezuela, assessing the effectiveness of a border wall, and more.

    Feb 15, 2019

  • Donald Trump holds up a photo of a border wall design in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., January 11, 2019, photo by Leah Millis/Reuters

    Commentary

    Terrorists on the Border and Government Secrecy

    Detailed information on how many would-be terrorists may have sought to cross the southern border is being withheld on the grounds that it is sensitive. The refusal of officials to offer a fuller explanation of the numbers illustrates how the continued expansion of secrecy in government is damaging the ability of the public to assess the risk and evaluate the response.

    Feb 13, 2019