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

  • Hezbollah members carry the coffin of Hezbollah commander Fadi Shahouri, near Nabatieh in southern Lebanon, August 4, 2017

    Commentary

    A Glass Half Empty? Taking Stock of Hezbollah's Losses in Syria

    Hezbollah has gained valuable combat experience in Syria, but the cost of that experience may not outweigh the losses in troops, the damage to its image and the need to cede some of its autonomy to Iran and the Assad regime. The longer the war drags on, the more apparent these losses will become.

    Oct 17, 2017

  • Speech bubbles imposed over a world map

    Essay

    Big Data, Big Questions

    RAND-Lex is a computer program that can scan millions of lines of text and identify what people are talking about, how they fit into communities, and how they see the world. The program has shed light on how terrorists communicate, how the American public thinks about health, and more.

    Oct 16, 2017

  • Members of Palestinian security forces loyal to Hamas patrol on the border with Egypt, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip October 8, 2017

    Commentary

    How Salafism's Rise Threatens Gaza

    The rise of hardline Salafism is a worrisome trend in Gaza, where Salafists could surpass Hamas as the most dangerous threat to other Palestinians and the state of Israel. Such a result could signal the sabotage of yet another chance for progress in one of the world's longest-running conflicts.

    Oct 11, 2017

  • Police officers check the identity cards of a people as security forces keep watch in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, March 24, 2017

    Commentary

    All That Could Go Wrong When Jihadists Return Home — to China

    About 300 of Western China's Uighurs, the Sunni Muslim indigenous ethnic minority, went to Syria to join ISIS. Now that the caliphate is collapsing, Beijing could soon find itself in the crosshairs of a religiously motivated, battle-hardened crop of returning terrorists.

    Sep 29, 2017

  • Suspected former Islamic State (IS) fighters Ayoub B. (R) and Ebrahim Hadj B. (L), hide their faces as they wait for the start of their trial in a courtroom in Calle, Germany November 30, 2015

    Commentary

    How Will Authorities Know When Foreign Fighters Have Returned?

    As the Islamic State's territory shrinks and its prestige declines, militants will try to find their way home. Many foreign fighters began as criminals, and many might turn to crime on their return. One of the most productive ways to identify and disrupt returning fighters is to focus on the criminal underworld.

    Sep 25, 2017

  • Iraqi security forces inspect the site of a bomb attack at a police checkpoint on a highway near the southern Iraqi city of Nassiriya, Iraq, September 14, 2017

    Commentary

    How ISIS Is Transforming

    The campaign to counter ISIS has made significant progress, but predictions of the group's demise are premature. It is transitioning from an insurgent organization with a fixed headquarters to a clandestine terrorist network dispersed throughout the globe.

    Sep 25, 2017

  • Multimedia

    What Will It Take to Prevent a Security Decline in Mosul?

    In this September 22nd Congressional Briefing, RAND Senior Policy Researchers Shelly Culbertson and Linda Robinson discuss what must be done to stabilize Mosul and Iraq after the defeat of ISIS.

    Sep 22, 2017

  • Supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah listen to him via a screen during a rally marking the 11th anniversary of the end of Hezbollah's 2006 war with Israel, in Khiam, Lebanon, August 13, 2017

    Commentary

    How Hezbollah Came to Dominate Information Warfare

    Hezbollah's information warfare portfolio includes newspapers, social media outlets, television programming, and a major internet presence. Its websites reflect the group's diverse agenda and aim to be multi-generational in their approach, offering information about social services as well as a video game to engage youth.

    Sep 19, 2017

  • Security forces deploy to secure the area after an overnight raid on a restaurant in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, August 14, 2017

    Commentary

    Sahel Governments Need More Security Assistance

    Developments in the Sahel are cause for alarm. Despite the presence of an active French counterterrorism force and a UN peacekeeping mission, al Qaeda groups are thriving. The region would benefit from approaches that combine police and military operations with economic development and improved governance.

    Sep 14, 2017

  • News Release

    News Release

    Satellite Imagery Analysis Reveals Economic Decay Within Islamic State

    The Islamic State contributed to a 23 percent reduction in the GDP of cities under its control, based on novel applications of satellite-derived data. Over the course of its peak territorial control and decline through mid-2016, the economy of the Islamic State showed clear signs of decay across multiple sectors.

    Sep 13, 2017

  • A color-coded image showing the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) measured around Raqqah, Syria, including the city's border

    Project

    When the Islamic State Comes to Town: Iraq and Syria from Space

    Using satellite imagery and a novel analytic approach, RAND experts developed a fine-grained, data-driven assessment of economic life inside ISIL's caliphate.

    Sep 13, 2017

  • A man and a boy ride a bicycle past a damaged mosque along a deserted street filled with debris in Deir al-Zor, Syria, March 5, 2014

    Report

    ISIL's Negative Economic Impacts on Iraq and Syria

    The Islamic State reduced the GDP of cities under its control by 23 percent. The group was able to maintain stable conditions in parts of Mosul and Raqqah, but conditions elsewhere deteriorated under poor governance and an inability to defend its territory from military opposition.

    Sep 13, 2017

  • Muslims listen to a Turkish imam during Friday prayers at the Turkish Kuba Camii mosque in Cologne's district of Kalk, Germany, October 14, 2016

    Commentary

    Countering Violent Islamist Extremism: The Value of Words Over War

    It is highly probable that the world will witness more attacks on civilian-centric locations as groups like the Islamic State group try to prove their continued relevance. Governments need a more nuanced strategy aimed at helping communities counter the conditions that contribute to extremist violence.

    Sep 1, 2017

  • Hezbollah fighters stand near military tanks in Western Qalamoun, Syria August 23, 2017

    Commentary

    Hezbollah Has Been Active in America for Decades

    Hezbollah has been active inside the United States for decades, engaging in a range of activities that include fundraising and money laundering. The U.S. and its allies should continue to combat the financing of terrorism and take action against the funding of terrorist groups on U.S. soil.

    Aug 28, 2017

  • Periodical

    Periodical

    RAND Review: September-October 2017

    This issue highlights recent RAND research on North Korea; RAND's future workspace pilot project; and insights on the post--Arab Spring experience in the Middle East.

    Aug 24, 2017

  • Workers place concrete barriers to prevent possible attacks on the walk Muelle Uno in Malaga, Spain, on August 18, 2017, a day after a van crashed into pedestrians at Las Ramblas

    Commentary

    When the Car Is a Terror Weapon, Can We Prepare for Attacks?

    Soft targets are notoriously difficult to protect from terrorism. Terrorists' latest shift to using vehicles to conduct attacks only compounds the problem.

    Aug 18, 2017

  • An Iraqi military HMMWV drives past an Islamic State sign in eastern Mosul after they captured it from IS

    Commentary

    The Islamic State May Be Failing, but Its Strategic Communications Legacy Is Here to Stay

    The Islamic State's caliphate is collapsing but its legacy will live on virtually because of its information operations. The scale of the menace presented by the group today pales in comparison to other global challenges, yet it manages to dominate and terrorize the public mind.

    Aug 17, 2017

  • Testimony

    Testimony

    The Terrorist Diaspora: After the Fall of the Caliphate: Addendum

    Document submitted August 11, 2017, as an addendum to testimony before the House Committee on Homeland Security, Task Force on Denying Terrorists Entry into the United States on July 13, 2017.

    Aug 14, 2017

  • Iraqis celebrate as Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announces victory over Islamic State in Mosul, in Baghdad, Iraq, July 10, 2017

    Commentary

    Islamic State 2.0

    Many of Iraq's Sunnis are frustrated with the slow pace of reconstruction and a Baghdad government they consider too friendly to Iran. The U.S. needs to shift from supporting military operations in cities such as Mosul to helping the Iraqi government better address political grievances. Failure risks sowing the seeds of ISIS's resurgence.

    Aug 10, 2017

  • A fighter of the Syrian Islamist rebel group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the former al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, rides in an armored vehicle in Aleppo, Syria, August 5, 2016

    Commentary

    Will Al Qaeda Make a Comeback?

    Al Qaeda's revival will likely hinge on its ability to take advantage of opportunities such as the withdrawal of counterterrorism forces from key battlefields, more revolt in the Middle East, U.S. or European policies that feed the perception of Muslim oppression, or the rise of a charismatic jihadist leader.

    Aug 7, 2017