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.

  • Armed fighters over a background of Syrian, Iraqi, and U.S. currencies and gold ingots, photos by zabelin, Cimmerian, Vitoria Holdings LLC, and johan10/Getty Images

    Report

    U.S. Efforts Are Essential to Counter an Islamic State Comeback

    Aug 8, 2019

    The Islamic State can no longer rely on local funding sources as it did when it controlled territory. But as an insurgency, its expenses are far lower. With revenue from criminal activities and the cash it hoarded, the group will survive as a clandestine terrorist movement. Counterfinance, intelligence, and possibly military action will be needed.

  • Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front fighters carry weapons on the back of pick-up trucks in Arsal, eastern Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, December 1, 2015, photo by Stringer/Reuters

    Commentary

    Al Qaeda Is Ready to Attack You Again

    Sep 5, 2019

    As al Qaeda continues to evolve, one of the most pressing questions is to what extent the group is still focused on attacking the West. Does the absence of spectacular attacks attributed to al Qaeda since 9/11 represent a lack of capability or merely a shift in priorities?

Explore Terrorist Organizations

  • A Kurdish fighter from the People's Protection Units watches smoke rise after a coalition airstrike in Raqqa, Syria, June 16, 2017

    Commentary

    The Islamic State's Disposable Army

    To leaders of the Islamic State group, murder of its own and collective suicide are keys to its defense strategy. The group targets malcontents and the most suggestible, knowing they are desperate to belong to something and willing to die for it.

    Jun 20, 2017

  • Chemical experts inspect the site of a suicide truck bomb attack at a petrol station in Hilla, Iraq, November 25, 2016

    Commentary

    Can We Predict Where Terrorists Will Strike Next?

    Terrorism has escalated horizontally, not vertically. Instead of weapons of mass destruction, there has been a proliferation of low-level attacks. The trick will be to predict and prevent new plots.

    Jun 19, 2017

  • Smoke rises from the al-Mishlab district in Raqqa's southeastern outskirts, Syria, June 7, 2017

    Commentary

    When the Caliphate Falls, What Then for U.S. Policy?

    The eventual fall of ISIS-controlled Raqqa will necessitate a review of U.S. policy in Syria. Policymakers can start thinking about the questions it will raise now.

    Jun 16, 2017

  • A pedestrian looks at floral tributes for the victims of the attack on London Bridge and Borough Market, June 6, 2017

    Commentary

    Why Aren't There More Terrorist Attacks Like the One in London?

    The number of attacks like the one on London Bridge are low because jihadist ideologies have failed to gain traction in most Muslim countries, and it's difficult to recruit people remotely. Supporting violence and participating in it are two different things.

    Jun 7, 2017

  • Vehicles drive near Tabqa Dam on the Euphrates River, in the town of Tabqa, after Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) captured it from Islamic State militants, Syria May 12, 2017

    Commentary

    Developing a Comprehensive Strategy for Countering the Islamic State

    Despite substantial policy and military focus, U.S. attempts to stop the Islamic State group have met with only varying degrees of success. A patient, long-term U.S. investment in governance—including a renewed commitment to addressing the root causes of instability in the Middle East—is needed in Iraq and Syria.

    Jun 5, 2017

  • A student in the Army's first Cyber Basic Officer Leader Course uses a field computer to probe for a targeted wireless network signal during a field training exercise at Fort Gordon, Georgia, February 1, 2017

    Commentary

    What Happens After ISIS Goes Underground

    As the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria suffers defeats on the battlefield, it is expanding its cyber presence to continue to encourage attacks abroad. The more the group relies on cyberspace, the more likely it will expose important segments of its organization to detection and disruption.

    May 30, 2017

  • Anti-government protesters outside Sana'a University raise their fingers and fists in the air while chanting for a new Yemen, February 25, 2011

    Report

    Undermining Violent Extremism in Yemen

    In the past 50 years, Yemen has faced significant political instability, including multiple civil wars. Why might Yemenis reject political violence despite persistent conflict and unrest? And how can the United States and its partners undermine violent extremism?

    May 22, 2017

  • A former Islamic State prison in the town of Tabqa, after Syrian Democratic Forces captured it from Islamic State militants, Syria, May 12, 2017.

    Commentary

    ISIS: Weakened but Still Potent

    ISIS is being defeated as an insurgency while preparing to transform into a clandestine terrorist group. But ISIS will continue to pose a serious threat to the countries where it operates and to the Western nations that it targets as it evolves.

    May 18, 2017

  • Ismail Haniyeh, newly elected head of Hamas' political office, arrives to visit a sit-in in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, Gaza City, May 8, 2017

    Commentary

    Hamas's Strategic Rebranding

    Hamas has unveiled a revised version of its charter that appears to soften the group's stance toward Israel. Does this represent a shift away from violence and toward a more lasting and peaceful political presence? Or is it a ploy to buy time to rearm?

    May 17, 2017

  • Displaced Iraqi people pass a torn Islamic State banner as the battle between the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service and Islamic State militants continues nearby, in western Mosul, Iraq, April 23, 2017

    Commentary

    Can the Islamic State Survive Financially?

    Significant gains have been made in attacking the Islamic State's cash and diminishing its ability to finance high-frequency attacks in Iraq and Syria. But the group may retain enough money to support sporadic attacks in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe.

    May 15, 2017

  • U.S. Army Special Forces members train Iraqi fighters from Hashid Shaabi at Makhmur camp in Iraq, December 11, 2016

    Commentary

    SOF's Evolving Role: Warfare 'By, With, and Through' Local Forces

    U.S. special operations forces are not providing the muscle of the frontline combat troops fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Instead, they are providing meaningful support to the various indigenous forces. If they succeed, this model could become a standard option in the U.S. military playbook.

    May 9, 2017

  • Members of the Free Syrian Army distribute humanitarian aid to residents left in Harem town, Idlib Governorate, October 28, 2012, after Syrian jets bombarded Sunni Muslim regions across the country

    Report

    The U.S. Strategy to Defeat the Islamic State Needs an Overhaul

    A broader strategy to beat the Islamic State should address the conditions that allowed the group to emerge and thrive. A long-term commitment is required to establish legitimate governance in Iraq and Syria and reconcile the disenfranchised Sunni Arab populations with their governments.

    May 8, 2017

  • An Iraqi security guard walks inside Al-Salam hospital destroyed during the fighting between Iraqi forces and Islamic State militants east of Mosul, Iraq May 2, 2017.

    Commentary

    The Caliphate Is Crumbling: What Comes Next?

    ISIL's caliphate is crumbling. But unless the U.S.-led coalition can reduce the many possibilities that might give ISIL's down-and-out members a reason to fight on, the militants will continue to contribute to disorder in the region.

    May 3, 2017

  • U.S. Army soldiers, deployed in support of Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve, use a rooftop as an observation post in Mosul, Iraq, March 7, 2017

    Commentary

    NATO's Role in Post-Caliphate Stability Operations

    Steps are needed to fill the vacuum left as the caliphate collapses, lest forces on the ground turn on each other to gain control. The answer is for NATO to act under U.S. leadership. The alternative is either chaos or Iran — backed by Russia — filling the void.

    May 2, 2017

  • Afghan Special Forces prepare for battle with the Taliban on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province, Afghanistan, October 10, 2016

    Testimony

    U.S. Policy Toward Afghanistan and the Region

    Afghanistan remains a key frontline state in the struggle against terrorist groups. With that in mind, the United States should make Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan an enduring part of its counterterrorism efforts.

    Apr 27, 2017

  • Person holding a smartphone displaying influencer marketing

    Report

    How to Empower ISIS Opponents on Twitter

    ISIS supporters on average produce 50 percent more tweets per day than ISIS opponents. It's critical to empower ISIS opponents on Twitter by drawing on lessons from the marketing industry.

    Apr 21, 2017

  • A person typing on a computer keyboard in a dark room

    Commentary

    Are Terrorists Using Cryptocurrencies?

    As the U.S. Treasury Department and its partners have denied terrorists access to the international financial system, new digital currencies could become an attractive alternative. They could be used for money laundering or to pay the personnel and vendors that keep the terrorist machine running.

    Apr 21, 2017

  • News Release

    Islamic State Control of People Down 83% in Iraq and 56% in Syria from Peak Levels

    The Islamic State has lost substantial control of territory and people but still conducts and inspires attacks around the world. The U.S. should pursue a light rollback strategy that relies on local forces backed by U.S. special operations forces, intelligence assets, and airpower.

    Apr 20, 2017

  • Iraqi forces advance against Islamic State militants in western Mosul, Iraq, March 6, 2017

    Report

    Rolling Back the Islamic State

    The Islamic State has lost substantial control of territory and people. But the group still conducts and inspires attacks around the world. The United States should pursue a light rollback strategy that relies on local forces backed by U.S. special operations troops, intelligence assets, and airpower.

    Apr 20, 2017

  • An Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service convoy moves towards Mosul, Iraq, February 23, 2017

    Commentary

    Assessing U.S. Terrorism Challenges Around the Globe

    For the United States, countering terrorism saw both progress and setbacks in 2016. The U.S. will need to keep pace with terrorist abilities to adapt to its countermeasures while maintaining a high operational tempo punctuated by aggressive counterterrorism strikes.

    Apr 13, 2017