Terrorists

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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

  • Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting with Russian Olympic athletes at the Moscow Kremlin in run-up to the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games, June 30, 2021, photo by Sergei Bobylev/Reuters

    Journal Article

    Can a Pragmatic Relationship With the Taliban Help Russia Counter Terrorism?

    Neither the United States nor Russia wants to see Afghanistan become a haven for international terrorist groups. For now, Russia is taking a pragmatic approach to the Taliban in that it has a relationship with the group that the United States does not.

    Sep 8, 2021

  • Marines guide a woman and her child during an evacuation from Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 18, 2021, photo by Marine Corps Sgt. Isaiah Campbell/U.S. Department of Defense

    Commentary

    Afghanistan Was Lost Long Ago

    The United States failed to build a lasting state in Afghanistan. Although the mission was not doomed from the start, early miscalculations and critical mistakes made success unlikely.

    Aug 30, 2021

  • Violent Extremism in America: Can it be Stopped?

    Multimedia

    Violent Extremism in America: Can It Be Stopped?

    Co-authors of the RAND report, Violent Extremism in America, discuss the findings from their interviews with former members of radical organizations.

    Jul 8, 2021

  • Protesters gather during the Indiana Stop Asian Hate Rally on Monument Circle in Indianapolis, Indiana, March 27, 2021, photo by USA Today Network via Reuters

    Research Brief

    What Former Extremists and Their Families Say About Radicalization in America

    Violent extremism is an evolving, ongoing threat in the United States. Interviews with former extremists—and their families and friends—offer insights into how individuals become radicalized, how they leave extremist groups, and what communities can do to stop the growth of extremism in their area.

    Jun 25, 2021

  • Report

    Report

    Insights from the Bin Laden Archive: Inventory of research and knowledge and initial assessment and characterisation of the Bin Laden Archive

    The authors present an inventory of current knowledge on Al Qa'ida and of completed and ongoing research on the Bin Laden Archive. They also describe their initial assessment and characterisation of the Bin Laden Archive.

    May 5, 2021

  • News Release

    News Release

    Interviews with Former Extremists Reveal Multiple Paths to Developing Extreme Ideologies; Rejection of Extremism Often ...

    People who radicalize to extremist ideologies often are triggered by negative life events or exposure to propaganda, and those who escape from extreme groups frequently are aided by an individual or group that intervenes to help them reject the philosophy.

    Apr 2, 2021

  • Light catches the security fence around the U.S. Capitol, erected in the wake of the January 6th attack but now scheduled to be removed, in Washington, D.C., March 15, 2021, photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    Report

    Violent Extremism in America: Firsthand Accounts

    The January 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol emphasized the need for more research to inform violent extremism prevention and deradicalization strategies. Interviews with former extremists and their family members shed light on what leads people to join—and later leave—extremist groups.

    Apr 1, 2021

  • Journal Article

    Journal Article

    Commentary: Securing the Least Bad Outcome: The Options Facing Biden on Afghanistan

    President Biden must decide whether to withdraw the remaining 2,500 U.S. troops from Afghanistan to meet a May 1 deadline. The consequences of the decision will decide the fate of Afghanistan and signal the U.S.' broader strategic intentions.

    Mar 12, 2021

  • F-16 Fighting Falcons in formation with two Royal Saudi Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles, after receiving fuel from a KC-135R Stratotanker

    Research Brief

    The Role of U.S. Airpower in Defeating ISIS

    The United States used airpower in Syria and Iraq to halt ISIS's momentum and help defeat the organization, without committing a large number of ground forces.

    Feb 12, 2021

  • News Release

    News Release

    Interest in a U.S. Grand Strategy of Restraint May Be Growing, So Advocates Need to Provide More Details

    As the Biden Administration takes over, some U.S. policymakers have expressed interest in a new approach to America's role in the world: a realist grand strategy of restraint under which the U.S. would cooperate more with other powers, reduce its forward military presence and end or renegotiate some security commitments.

    Jan 22, 2021

  • A world map puzzle with a piece on top, photo by Yuriy Panyukov/Adobe Stock

    Report

    A U.S. Grand Strategy of Restraint

    Some U.S. policymakers have expressed interest in a realist grand strategy of restraint. Under this approach, the United States would cooperate more with other powers, reduce its forward military presence, and end or renegotiate some security commitments. What are the policy implications of embarking down this path?

    Jan 21, 2021

  • Female hand touching screen of the phone surrounded with social media notification icons, photo by nikolas_stock/AdobeStock

    Journal Article

    Social Media and Influence Operations Technologies: Implications for Great Power Competition

    Russia, China, and the so-called Islamic State are three key U.S. adversaries that have exploited online technologies for propaganda. This chapter reviews the aims, capabilities, and limitations of online propaganda for each of these entities.

    Oct 23, 2020

  • Report

    Report

    Counter-Radicalization Bot Research: Using Social Bots to Fight Violent Extremism

    As the online recruitment of violent extremist organizations grows, the U.S. government may benefit from promising emerging technology tools to rapidly detect targets of such recruitment efforts and deliver counter-radicalization content to them.

    Oct 8, 2020

  • Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. envoy for peace in Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani and Mutlaq Al-Qahtani, special envoy of the foreign minister of Qatar are seen during talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, September 12, 2020, photo by Ibraheem al Omari/Reuters

    Commentary

    The Islamic State in Afghanistan Is Down, but Not Out

    The Afghan Taliban is on the verge of entering into a power-sharing agreement with the Afghan government in a peace deal facilitated by the United States. Washington seems to be holding out hope that the deal will stabilize the country. But the Islamic State Khorasan Province remains a concern. The Islamic State in Afghanistan may be down, but it's not out.

    Sep 14, 2020

  • Osama bin Laden (L) sits with his adviser Ayman al-Zawahiri, in a secret location in Afghanistan, November 10, 2001, photo by Hamid Mir/Reuters

    Commentary

    Is Ayman al-Zawahiri Really the Future of Al-Qaida?

    Nineteen years after 9/11, al Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahiri has yet to achieve the household notoriety evoked by his immediate predecessor, Osama bin Laden. But even though Zawahiri has conjured less of a personality cult, al Qaida's current leader is just as dangerous to the United States as its old one.

    Sep 11, 2020

  • Photograph image of Philippine flag standing on a war torn city of Marawi in the Philippines.

    Report

    Countering Violent Extremism in the Philippines: A Snapshot of Current Challenges and Responses

    In this report, RAND researchers provide a snapshot of the terrorist and extremist threats facing the Philippines and the countering violent extremism efforts that the Philippine government and nongovernmental agencies have undertaken in response.

    Sep 9, 2020

  • A man wearing a t-shirt with an image of Zakir Rashid Bhat, the leader of an al Qaeda affiliated militant group in Kashmir, in Dadasara, Kashmir, May 24, 2019, photo by Danish Ismail/Reuters

    Commentary

    Is al Qaida Still a Threat?

    Nineteen years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, does al Qaida still pose a significant threat to U.S. national security? Among researchers, military and intelligence officials, and policymakers who study the group, there is little consensus. An accurate assessment of al Qaida's organizational health must take into account the group's recent and dramatic resurrection.

    Sep 9, 2020

  • Syrian refugees cross into Jordanian territory, near the town of Ruwaished, 149 miles east of Amman, December 5, 2013, photo by Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

    Report

    Stabilizing Eastern Syria After ISIS

    Eastern Syrian communities are no longer occupied by ISIS but they are in a fraught political environment where the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Syrian government have both expanded their presence and some ISIS fighters remain. What are the region's most urgent needs and is there a viable strategy to build near-term stability?

    Sep 8, 2020