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 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

    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

  • Social network icons focused on Africa section of world map, overlaid on photo of hand holding a mobile phone, photo by Igor/Adobe Stock

    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

    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

    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

    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

  • French President Emmanuel Macron gives a speech at an international conference to discuss ways of cutting funding to terrorist groups, at the OECD headquarters in Paris, France, April 26, 2018

    Testimony

    Current Trends in Terrorist Financing

    How do terrorists generate income? And how might ISIS, the wealthiest group in history, seek to use its funds to make a comeback? Terrorist financing has evolved, making it difficult to counter. But these efforts must continue to keep ISIS isolated from external patrons and state sponsors.

    Sep 7, 2018

  • Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims attend prayers during Eid al-Fitr as they mark the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, at the site of a suicide car bomb attack over the weekend in Baghdad, Iraq, July 6, 2016

    Report

    Blaming Sunni-Shi'a Split for Middle East Unrest Is Too Simplistic

    Policy decisions are being made based on the assumption that the Middle East is riven by a purely dualistic sectarian war between Sunni and Shi'a Muslims. While sectarianism is relevant, geopolitical competition, local disputes, and political rivalries are the core drivers of conflict in countries like Iraq and Syria.

    Aug 30, 2018

  • Shelly Culbertson and a United Nations Mine Action Service Implementation Partner survey the grounds of the Al-Shifa Hospital complex in Mosul, Iraq.

    Multimedia

    Making Victory Count: Stabilizing Mosul

    RAND researchers Shelly Culbertson and Linda Robinson visited Iraq nine months after the Battle of Mosul to gauge the progress being made in rebuilding and stabilizing the region. In the aftermath of combat operations against ISIS, what are the critical requirements for achieving lasting stability and the resumption of city life in Mosul?

    Aug 22, 2018

  • A simple radiation warning design on a concrete wall

    Commentary

    Is Nuclear Terrorism Distracting Attention from More Realistic Threats?

    A nuclear terrorist attack is currently not a realistic threat. It would require an unprecedented level of sophistication from terrorists. The majority of terrorist attacks are conducted with conventional explosives.

    Jul 27, 2018

  • A Taliban (R) stands as Afghan security forces ride on an army vehicle during a celebration of a ceasefire in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, June 16, 2018

    Commentary

    Afghan Ceasefires Offer Hope for a Peaceful Future

    Parallel ceasefires in Afghanistan by the Afghan government and the Taliban for the end of the holy month of Ramadan brought a short respite from the violence. This was an unprecedented development, but was it an opening for resolution of the conflict?

    Jun 25, 2018