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

  • Protective barriers are placed along a bike path near a memorial for the victims of the October 31 attack in New York City, November 3, 2017

    Commentary

    America Is Great at Fighting Terrorism, but Terror Is Alive and Well

    When terrorists adopt a strategy of pure terror, it's hard to prevent attacks like those in Nice, Columbus, London, Barcelona, or New York. Instead, strategies are needed to counter terrorism's ultimate aim—to instill fear—and to remove some of the incentives of potential attackers.

    Nov 16, 2017

  • Somali fighters belonging to Ahlusunah warjama, a moderate sect fighting against the hardline Al-Shabaab insurgents, display weapons during a parade in Mogadishu, July 31, 2010

    Commentary

    Why Africa Could Provide an 'ISIS Renaissance'

    ISIS has been one of the most formidable and well-organized terrorist groups in history and it would be naive to assume that ISIS will simply cease operations in the face of recent losses. More likely, the group, along with its many followers, will attempt to disperse to a new base, and parts of Africa are likely targets for a new caliphate.

    Nov 15, 2017

  • Fighters of Syrian Democratic Forces dance after liberating Raqqa from Islamic State militants, Raqqa, Syria, October 18, 2017

    Commentary

    The Future of Counterterrorism Efforts in Syria

    It is time for the U.S.-led coalition to figure out what its next counterterrorism steps should be, even as it continues to work toward stabilizing the country and navigating the path toward a political settlement with the other major powers involved.

    Nov 15, 2017

  • Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends the first working session of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 7, 2017

    Testimony

    Russia's Approach to Counterterrorism and Counterinsurgency

    The United States and Russia have both suffered at the hands of Islamic militants. But any attempts by Moscow to compare its campaign against jihadists with America's war on terrorism are inaccurate. Russia's brutal methods have often made things worse, so the United States shouldn't view Russia as a viable counterterrorism partner.

    Nov 7, 2017

  • Syrian Democratic Forces fighters ride atop of military vehicle as they celebrate victory in Raqqa, Syria, October 17, 2017

    Commentary

    Why the Fall of the 'Caliphate' in Syria Will Not Ease Western Security Concerns

    A Syria and Iraq free of ISIS do not, unfortunately, free the West from the ISIS threat. Instead, ISIS is likely to either disperse, with its followers prepared to carry out a range of further attacks, or attempt to regroup in the fragile states of Africa.

    Nov 3, 2017

  • Police look toward the scene of a pickup truck attack on West Side Highway in Manhattan, New York, U.S., October 31 2017

    Commentary

    Terrorism Fatigue

    By continually staking claim to big and small terrorist attacks, regardless of target selection or casualty count, ISIS has attempted to instill a sense of omnipresent and unpredictable danger. And in the process, terrorism fatigue may be setting in around the world.

    Nov 1, 2017

  • Iraqi security forces stand guard in an oil refinery, north of Baghdad, in Baiji, Iraq, October 16, 2015

    Q&A

    Oil, Extortion Still Paying Off for ISIS

    ISIS's oil revenues declined from a peak of $40 million per month in 2015 to $4 million per month as of early October 2017. Despite the massive reduction, it's still a substantial amount of money for a group whose expenditures decrease with the size of the population and territory it controls and decreased recruitment.

    Oct 27, 2017

  • Members of al Qaeda's Nusra Front move toward their positions near al-Zahra village, north of Aleppo city, November 25, 2014

    Commentary

    The Moderate Face of Al Qaeda

    Al Qaeda in Syria cut ties with its parent organization to portray itself as a legitimate, capable, and independent force in the Syrian civil war. The group appears dedicated to helping Syrians prevail, and now that ISIS has lost its capital in Raqqa, al Qaeda may be the only group viewed as militarily capable of challenging the Assad regime.

    Oct 24, 2017

  • 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