The Islamic State (Terrorist Organization)

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ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), also known as ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), is a Sunni jihadist group with a particularly violent ideology that calls itself a caliphate and claims religious authority over all Muslims. It was inspired by al Qaida but later publicly expelled from it. RAND terrorism experts have analyzed the group's financing, management, and organization; its savvy use of social media for recruitment and fundraising; and the instability that spawned the group as a regional problem in the Middle East.

  • Mosul in March 2016, under Islamic State control, when nighttime lighting had fallen by 55 percent compared to its pre-ISIS levels in January 2014

    Essay

    What Life Under ISIS Looked Like from Space

    Jan 9, 2018

    Satellite images show how ISIS attempted to govern in Iraq and Syria, the economic damage the group left behind, and what it will take to rebuild.

  • 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

    Jul 24, 2017

    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.

Explore The Islamic State (Terrorist Organization)

  • French President Emmanuel Macron gives a speech at an international conference to discuss ways of cutting funding to terrorist groups, at the OECD headquarters in Paris, France, April 26, 2018

    Testimony

    Current Trends in Terrorist Financing

    How do terrorists generate income? And how might ISIS, the wealthiest group in history, seek to use its funds to make a comeback? Terrorist financing has evolved, making it difficult to counter. But these efforts must continue to keep ISIS isolated from external patrons and state sponsors.

    Sep 7, 2018

  • Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims attend prayers during Eid al-Fitr as they mark the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, at the site of a suicide car bomb attack over the weekend in Baghdad, Iraq, July 6, 2016

    Report

    Blaming Sunni-Shi'a Split for Middle East Unrest Is Too Simplistic

    Policy decisions are being made based on the assumption that the Middle East is riven by a purely dualistic sectarian war between Sunni and Shi'a Muslims. While sectarianism is relevant, geopolitical competition, local disputes, and political rivalries are the core drivers of conflict in countries like Iraq and Syria.

    Aug 30, 2018

  • Shelly Culbertson and a United Nations Mine Action Service Implementation Partner survey the grounds of the Al-Shifa Hospital complex in Mosul, Iraq.

    Multimedia

    Making Victory Count: Stabilizing Mosul

    RAND researchers Shelly Culbertson and Linda Robinson visited Iraq nine months after the Battle of Mosul to gauge the progress being made in rebuilding and stabilizing the region. In the aftermath of combat operations against ISIS, what are the critical requirements for achieving lasting stability and the resumption of city life in Mosul?

    Aug 22, 2018

  • A simple radiation warning design on a concrete wall

    Commentary

    Is Nuclear Terrorism Distracting Attention from More Realistic Threats?

    A nuclear terrorist attack is currently not a realistic threat. It would require an unprecedented level of sophistication from terrorists. The majority of terrorist attacks are conducted with conventional explosives.

    Jul 27, 2018

  • Destroyed buildings during sunset at the frontline in Raqqa, Syria, October 6, 2017

    Commentary

    Defeating the ISIS Nostalgia Narrative

    It is crucial that the United States and its coalition partners take into consideration and preempt the ISIS nostalgia narratives that may seek to define the group's legacy and prepare a foundation for its resurgence throughout the Middle East and beyond. The legacy ISIS should be remembered for is one of misery and despair.

    Apr 19, 2018

  • Syrian medical staff take part in a training exercise on how to treat victims of chemical weapons attacks, Gaziantep, Turkey, July 20, 2017

    Commentary

    Are Chemical Weapons Becoming a Tacitly Accepted Weapon of War?

    The international community should consider serious options to hold perpetrators of chemical attacks accountable and stop further attacks. These are not easy choices. But the alternative is accepting that long-held norms are crumbling, and the world is sliding back to a time when inhumane tools of war were common.

    Apr 18, 2018

  • Turkish flag flutters at Turkey's border gate with Syria, overlooking ruins of buildings destroyed during fighting with the Islamic State militants in Kobani, Syria, October 11, 2017

    Commentary

    Turkey's Double Standard: How Ankara's Actions Contradict Its Claims of Opposing the Islamic State

    Turkey wants to take credit for the demise of the Islamic State, insisting that Turkey's actions in northern Syria have helped lay the groundwork for a sustainable peace. But the evidence clearly suggests otherwise.

    Apr 13, 2018

  • A member of al Qaeda's Nusra Front near Idlib, Syria, December 2, 2014

    Commentary

    Do Terrorist Groups Really Die?

    The persistence of al Qaeda and ISIS underscores terrorist groups' adaptability in the 21st century. Both organizations maintain global, regional, and local influence in the face of immense pressure. As terrorist groups fall, the West should watch them closely to prevent a resurgence.

    Apr 9, 2018

  • News Release

    RAND Study Examines Ways U.S. Can Better Counter Political Warfare

    The United States needs to improve the ways it combats adversaries adept at using political warfare tactics to achieve their goals and undermine U.S. interests and allies.

    Apr 5, 2018

  • Chess board made out of a world map

    Report

    Countering Modern Political Warfare

    Both state and nonstate actors—including Russia, Iran, and ISIS—practice political warfare in unique ways. How can the United States, along with its allies and partners, respond to or engage in this type of conflict to protect U.S. interests?

    Apr 5, 2018

  • Turkish forces patrol an area in Afrin, Syria, March 22, 2018

    Commentary

    What's Turkey Trying to Achieve in Syria?

    Turkish President Erdoğan is attempting to cement his political legitimacy among Syrian Sunnis by portraying himself as their savior. If the United States withdraws from Syria after the mission to defeat ISIS is complete, it will essentially be ceding the advantage to Erdoğan, who can continue pushing his agenda.

    Apr 2, 2018

  • The flag outside the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands

    Commentary

    The Problem of Prosecuting International Jihadists

    The International Criminal Court may be the most ideal institution to try accused terrorists. The court would take into account the legal status of terrorists, the nationalities of their victims, and the location of the crimes — while upholding the core values of Western democracies.

    Mar 9, 2018

  • British mother Tareena Shakil, who took her 14-month-old son to Syria to join ISIS fighters, was jailed for six years on February 1, 2016

    Commentary

    Not All Returning 'Jihadi Brides' Are Dangerous

    Since the fall of the ISIS caliphate in late 2017, Western societies have expressed concern about the possibility of returning foreign fighters. It is not just returning men that worry governments. The prospect of women, known as “jihadi brides,” returning to the West, often with children born under ISIS rule, is also a potential problem.

    Feb 28, 2018

  • Shi'ite Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) members hold an Islamic State flag, which they pulled down, during the war between Iraqi army and PMF against Islamic State militants in Tal Afar, Iraq, August 27, 2017

    Commentary

    Expanding the ISIS Brand

    Since its founding, the Islamic State has consistently expanded and contracted in order to achieve its objectives. To discern how ISIS might continue to expand, it makes sense to trace Al Qaeda's trajectory, which followed a similar pattern in the 2000s.

    Feb 19, 2018

  • Residents who returned from evacuation centers walk past a bullet-ridden house believed to have been rented by pro-Islamic State militant group leaders before their attack on the region, in Basak Malutlut district in Marawi City, Philippines, October 29, 2017

    Commentary

    Where Will ISIS Seek to Establish Its Next Safe Haven?

    Many of ISIS's surviving fighters will seek out new battlefields to continue waging jihad. By coordinating with its allies around the globe, the U.S. could work to help alleviate the conditions that lead states to fail, making them less appealing as sanctuaries where terrorists can rest, rearm, and recuperate.

    Feb 19, 2018

  • Flowers and pictures of victims of the Islamic State's assault on Istanbul's Reina nightclub are placed near its entrance in Istanbul, Turkey, January 17, 2017

    Commentary

    Erdogan's Fatal Blind Spot

    Erdogan's tolerance of ISIS fighters in Turkey amounts to tacit approval. The danger posed by ISIS using Turkey as a staging ground could become more formidable than the threat currently posed by Kurdish terrorism. Tolerating ISIS to fight the Kurds is therefore a dangerous and myopic policy.

    Feb 16, 2018

  • Smoke rises after an airstrike during fighting between the Syrian Democratic Forces and Islamic State militants, Raqqa, Syria, August 15, 2017

    Commentary

    Tillerson's All of the Above Policy for Syria

    U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson proposed to suppress any ISIS resurgence in Syria, oust Bashar al Assad, reduce Iranian influence, continue to back a Kurdish-dominated enclave, and reassure Turkey. It's important to understand why such an “all of the above” approach would not be workable.

    Feb 1, 2018

  • U.S. President Donald Trump applauds in front of Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker Paul Ryan during his first State of the Union address in Washington, January 30, 2018

    Blog

    Trump's First State of the Union: Insights from RAND

    RAND research, analysis, and expertise provide context for the issues discussed in the president's first State of the Union address, including infrastructure, North Korea, and opioids.

    Jan 31, 2018

  • Periodical

    RAND Review: January-February 2018

    This issue highlights RAND research on life inside the Islamic State and on the economic returns of early childhood investments, plus lessons for the U.S. from Britain's approach to free child care.

    Jan 3, 2018