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 al Qaeda and its offshoots—to understand their motivations, their recruitment and training methods, and why some are more successful than others.

  • 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

    Dec 18, 2018

    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.

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

    Report

    Terrorist Use of Cryptocurrencies

    Mar 27, 2019

    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.

Explore Terrorist Organizations

  • Turkish flag flutters at Turkey's border gate with Syria, overlooking ruins of buildings destroyed during fighting with the Islamic State militants in Kobani, Syria, October 11, 2017

    Commentary

    Turkey's Double Standard: How Ankara's Actions Contradict Its Claims of Opposing the Islamic State

    Turkey wants to take credit for the demise of the Islamic State, insisting that Turkey's actions in northern Syria have helped lay the groundwork for a sustainable peace. But the evidence clearly suggests otherwise.

    Apr 13, 2018

  • A member of al Qaeda's Nusra Front near Idlib, Syria, December 2, 2014

    Commentary

    Do Terrorist Groups Really Die?

    The persistence of al Qaeda and ISIS underscores terrorist groups' adaptability in the 21st century. Both organizations maintain global, regional, and local influence in the face of immense pressure. As terrorist groups fall, the West should watch them closely to prevent a resurgence.

    Apr 9, 2018

  • News Release

    RAND Study Examines Ways U.S. Can Better Counter Political Warfare

    The United States needs to improve the ways it combats adversaries adept at using political warfare tactics to achieve their goals and undermine U.S. interests and allies.

    Apr 5, 2018

  • Chess board made out of a world map

    Report

    Countering Modern Political Warfare

    Both state and nonstate actors—including Russia, Iran, and ISIS—practice political warfare in unique ways. How can the United States, along with its allies and partners, respond to or engage in this type of conflict to protect U.S. interests?

    Apr 5, 2018

  • Turkish forces patrol an area in Afrin, Syria, March 22, 2018

    Commentary

    What's Turkey Trying to Achieve in Syria?

    Turkish President Erdoğan is attempting to cement his political legitimacy among Syrian Sunnis by portraying himself as their savior. If the United States withdraws from Syria after the mission to defeat ISIS is complete, it will essentially be ceding the advantage to Erdoğan, who can continue pushing his agenda.

    Apr 2, 2018

  • The flag outside the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands

    Commentary

    The Problem of Prosecuting International Jihadists

    The International Criminal Court may be the most ideal institution to try accused terrorists. The court would take into account the legal status of terrorists, the nationalities of their victims, and the location of the crimes — while upholding the core values of Western democracies.

    Mar 9, 2018

  • British mother Tareena Shakil, who took her 14-month-old son to Syria to join ISIS fighters, was jailed for six years on February 1, 2016

    Commentary

    Not All Returning 'Jihadi Brides' Are Dangerous

    Since the fall of the ISIS caliphate in late 2017, Western societies have expressed concern about the possibility of returning foreign fighters. It is not just returning men that worry governments. The prospect of women, known as “jihadi brides,” returning to the West, often with children born under ISIS rule, is also a potential problem.

    Feb 28, 2018

  • A U.S. Marine with a Marine special operations team assists with security during a construction project for an Afghan Local Police checkpoint in Helmand province, Afghanistan, March 30, 2013

    Commentary

    In Afghanistan, A Protracted Stalemate

    The United States has been at war in Afghanistan for over 16 years, at a cost of over $1 trillion. But the Taliban now controls more territory than at any point since the U.S.-led invasion. This should give pause to observers who believe that the United States is, or will soon be, poised to turn the tide in Afghanistan.

    Feb 26, 2018

  • Shi'ite Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) members hold an Islamic State flag, which they pulled down, during the war between Iraqi army and PMF against Islamic State militants in Tal Afar, Iraq, August 27, 2017

    Commentary

    Expanding the ISIS Brand

    Since its founding, the Islamic State has consistently expanded and contracted in order to achieve its objectives. To discern how ISIS might continue to expand, it makes sense to trace Al Qaeda's trajectory, which followed a similar pattern in the 2000s.

    Feb 19, 2018

  • Residents who returned from evacuation centers walk past a bullet-ridden house believed to have been rented by pro-Islamic State militant group leaders before their attack on the region, in Basak Malutlut district in Marawi City, Philippines, October 29, 2017

    Commentary

    Where Will ISIS Seek to Establish Its Next Safe Haven?

    Many of ISIS's surviving fighters will seek out new battlefields to continue waging jihad. By coordinating with its allies around the globe, the U.S. could work to help alleviate the conditions that lead states to fail, making them less appealing as sanctuaries where terrorists can rest, rearm, and recuperate.

    Feb 19, 2018

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a weekly cabinet meeting, Jerusalem, February 11, 2018

    Commentary

    Israel Prepares to Take on Iran and Hezbollah in Syria

    Clashes between Israeli, Iranian, and Syrian forces have injected new volatility into the Middle East. This increases the likelihood of miscalculation and escalatory military action across the region.

    Feb 19, 2018

  • Flowers and pictures of victims of the Islamic State's assault on Istanbul's Reina nightclub are placed near its entrance in Istanbul, Turkey, January 17, 2017

    Commentary

    Erdogan's Fatal Blind Spot

    Erdogan's tolerance of ISIS fighters in Turkey amounts to tacit approval. The danger posed by ISIS using Turkey as a staging ground could become more formidable than the threat currently posed by Kurdish terrorism. Tolerating ISIS to fight the Kurds is therefore a dangerous and myopic policy.

    Feb 16, 2018

  • Smoke rises after an airstrike during fighting between the Syrian Democratic Forces and Islamic State militants, Raqqa, Syria, August 15, 2017

    Commentary

    Tillerson's All of the Above Policy for Syria

    U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson proposed to suppress any ISIS resurgence in Syria, oust Bashar al Assad, reduce Iranian influence, continue to back a Kurdish-dominated enclave, and reassure Turkey. It's important to understand why such an “all of the above” approach would not be workable.

    Feb 1, 2018

  • U.S. President Donald Trump applauds in front of Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker Paul Ryan during his first State of the Union address in Washington, January 30, 2018

    Blog

    Trump's First State of the Union: Insights from RAND

    RAND research, analysis, and expertise provide context for the issues discussed in the president's first State of the Union address, including infrastructure, North Korea, and opioids.

    Jan 31, 2018

  • Mosul in March 2016, under Islamic State control, when nighttime lighting had fallen by 55 percent compared to its pre-ISIS levels in January 2014

    Essay

    What Life Under ISIS Looked Like from Space

    Satellite images show how ISIS attempted to govern in Iraq and Syria, the economic damage the group left behind, and what it will take to rebuild.

    Jan 9, 2018

  • Newspapers from February 2002 display a photo of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was wanted for the kidnapping and murder of U.S. reporter Daniel Pearl

    Report

    Does the U.S. No-Concessions Policy Deter Kidnappings?

    The U.S. no-concessions policy has not produced any noticeable decline in the number of kidnappings of Americans. The most important factor appears to be the fate of the kidnappers. Where they are apprehended and face stiff penalties, and their gangs and groups are destroyed, kidnappings decline.

    Jan 8, 2018

  • Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad stand in the al-Khafsa area on the western bank of the Euphrates River, Syria, March 9, 2017

    Commentary

    Where Is Assad Getting His Fighters from?

    The Assad regime's defense against insurgents in Syria's ongoing civil war is being provided by forces imported from Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as Lebanon and Iraq. Most of these fighters are being trained and equipped by Iran. Could this network of foreign fighters help Iran establish a greater presence beyond the Middle East?

    Jan 4, 2018

  • Periodical

    RAND Review: January-February 2018

    This issue highlights RAND research on life inside the Islamic State and on the economic returns of early childhood investments, plus lessons for the U.S. from Britain's approach to free child care.

    Jan 3, 2018

  • A flag of Islamic State militants is pictured above a destroyed house near the Clock Square in Raqqa, Syria, October 18, 2017

    Commentary

    ISIS Could Rise Again

    ISIS has a tried-and-true playbook for bringing itself back from near death. Just a few years ago, it managed to resurrect itself after apparent defeat. And the history of that resurrection should serve as a warning of what may be coming now.

    Dec 15, 2017

  • Multimedia

    Recommendations for a Future National Defense Strategy

    Drawing from his expertise and war-game experience, David Ochmanek provides recommendations to inform a future national defense strategy. He explains that while U.S. forces are currently misaligned with challenges from the country's greatest adversaries, including China and Russia, gaps can be overcome with investments in existing technology to protect our forward bases; reach into contested areas; and identify, track, and engage enemy forces.

    Nov 30, 2017