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

  • 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

  • Civilians carry their belongings as they walk between destroyed buildings by clashes in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq, July 23, 2017

    Multimedia

    Making Victory Count After Defeating ISIS

    In this Call with the Experts, senior policy researcher Shelly Culbertson discusses the challenges ahead to ensure peace and stability following the defeat of ISIS in Mosul. Media relations director Jeffrey Hiday moderates the call.

    Aug 4, 2017

  • The U.S. Capitol building illuminated at night in Washington, D.C.

    Blog

    RAND's Summer Reading List for Congress

    Hill staffers can make the most of the Congressional recess with this list of must-read research and commentary on the policy issues they will be addressing this fall.

    Aug 4, 2017

  • Testimony

    Testimony

    Middle East Turmoil and the Continuing Terrorist Threat — Still No Easy Solutions: Addendum

    Document submitted on July7, 2017, as an addendum to testimony before the House Committee on Armed Services on February 14, 2017.

    Jul 27, 2017

  • Libyan authorities accused al Qaeda of trying to smuggle 37 million tablets of the synthetic opiate Tramadol which were seized from a shipping container in Tripoli, March 3, 2011

    Commentary

    ISIS Is So Desperate It's Turning to the Drug Trade

    As the Islamic State loses territory, it is forced to seek new revenue streams to exploit, including drug trafficking. Proceeds garnered from peddling narcotics affords jihadis in Europe the financial flexibility to travel to Syria, to fund attacks, and to pay for their return trips home.

    Jul 25, 2017

  • An Iraqi flag is seen amid destroyed buildings in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq, July 23, 2017

    Report

    How to Achieve Stability in Iraq After ISIS

    After major combat operations against ISIS in Mosul, recovery and stability will require redoubled efforts by Iraqis and the international community. How well humanitarian, security, and other needs are addressed will affect the immediate stabilization of Iraq, including whether civilians can return home.

    Jul 24, 2017

  • People walk in front of the remains of the University of Mosul, which was burned and destroyed during a battle with Islamic State militants, in Mosul, Iraq, April 10, 2017.

    Commentary

    Moving Beyond Mosul

    The Islamic State group has been defeated in Mosul. But this military routing isn't enough to ensure lasting stability, either in Mosul or in Iraq more broadly. What comes next will require careful planning, diplomacy, implementation, and coordination.

    Jul 18, 2017

  • Multimedia

    The Terrorist Diaspora

    An overview of the testimony presented by Colin Clarke before the House Homeland Security Committee Task Force on Denying Terrorists Entry into the United States on July 13, 2017.

    Jul 13, 2017

  • Members of al Qaeda's Nusra Front ride on a pickup truck mounted with an anti-aircraft weapon in Ariha, Syria, May 29, 2015

    Testimony

    How Al-Qaida Could Resurge

    Several factors may impact al-Qaida's rise or decline over the next several years. Most of these are outside of al-Qaida's control, but much would depend on how al-Qaida or similar groups responded to them.

    Jul 13, 2017

  • A member of Iraqi security forces holds an Islamic State flag on the top of a destroyed building from clashes in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq, July 10, 2017

    Testimony

    The Terrorist Diaspora: After the Fall of the Caliphate

    As operations against ISIS in Mosul conclude, militants are likely already fleeing—and preparing to wage jihad elsewhere. How can the United States identify and mitigate the threat posed by these foreign fighters?

    Jul 13, 2017

  • Rebel fighters walk out from a cave that was used by Islamic State militants, after they captured the area from them, on the outskirts of the northern town of al-Bab, Syria, February 2, 2017

    Multimedia

    The Evolving Terrorist Threat

    As ISIS loses territory in Iraq and Syria, are terrorist attacks more likely or less? How is the group evolving? What about al-Qa'ida? To answer these questions, RAND convened a group of terrorism experts.

    Jul 12, 2017

  • A tank belonging to special forces of the Libyan army enters the area of clashes with Islamist militants in their last stronghold in Benghazi, Libya, July 5, 2017

    Commentary

    How the Gulf Row Could Tear Libya Apart Even Further

    Since Gadhafi was removed from power, Gulf nations have been vying for position in Libya through proxy forces to influence political outcomes. Current tensions between Qatar and its neighbors are adding to the instability.

    Jul 7, 2017

  • Iraqi soldiers pose with the Islamic State flag in al-Shura, Iraq, which they recaptured on October 30, 2016

    Blog

    Vickers, Crocker, Bergen, and Mudd Headline RAND ISIS Conference

    Panelists at a RAND conference on ISIS agreed that efforts to protect the U.S. homeland and conduct campaigns to dismantle extremist groups have had success. But many long-term challenges to the broader world order remain that will require strategic patience.

    Jul 6, 2017