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.

  • Residents of Raqqa gather in the morning to drink tea after they had been allowed back to inspect their homes, photo by Aboud Hamam

    Essay

    Civilian Casualties: Lessons from the Battle for Raqqa

    The United States' emphasis on minimizing civilian harm in Raqqa, Syria, was quite clear and strong up and down the chain of command. But the way in which the U.S. military waged war in Raqqa too often undercut that commitment. The Pentagon asked RAND to find out what happened.

    Jul 1, 2022

  • A collage of the COVID-19 virus, armed terror groups, and a biological response team

    Report

    Implications of the Pandemic for Terrorist Interest in Biological Weapons

    Some policymakers and analysts have expressed concern that weaknesses in responses to the COVID-19 pandemic will motivate terrorists to seek biological weapons. While the prospect of the Islamic State and al-Qaeda pursuing biological weapons is not zero, it is unlikely, given the difficulties involved and the availability of simpler alternatives.

    May 31, 2022

Explore The Islamic State (Terrorist Organization)

  • U.S. soldiers load onto a CH-47 Chinook helicopter as they leave Al Qaim Base, Iraq, March 9, 2020, photo by Spc. Andrew Garcia/U.S. Army

    Report

    Weighing U.S. Troop Withdrawal from Iraq

    Supporting a stable and friendly Iraq is in the long-term interest of the United States. This does not require continuing the combat assistance mission, but would mean maintaining a small force of military advisers to help train and develop Iraqi capabilities so that Iraq could defend itself.

    May 19, 2020

  • U.S. Army soldiers deployed in support of Combined Joint Task Force–Operation Inherent Resolve await aerial extraction via CH-47 Chinook during a training exercise in Iraq, October 31, 2018, photo by 1st Lt. Leland White/U.S. Army National Guard

    Report

    It's Time to Make a Full and Enduring Commitment to Iraq

    American interests will suffer if strategic competition in Iraq is abandoned. U.S. policymakers should pursue a commitment to Iraq before opportunities are lost. The best way to establish that commitment is through robust, long-term, small-footprint assistance to the Iraqi Army.

    Apr 14, 2020

  • Following the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, members of Iraq's parliament voted to expel American soldiers from Iraq, January 5, 2020, photo by Iraqi Parliament Media Office/Handout via Reuters

    Commentary

    Iraq's Vote to Expel U.S. Troops Is Iran's True Victory

    If American soldiers are ejected from Iraq, the consequences may be far-reaching and damaging to U.S. strategic interests. What options remain to reset the relationship between Washington and Baghdad?

    Jan 6, 2020

  • People walk on the street, where Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his caliphate back in 2014, in the old city of Mosul, Iraq, October 27, 2019, photo by Abdullah Rashid/Reuters

    Commentary

    Baghdadi's Death Will Make Global Affiliates More Independent

    The recent death of Islamic State leader and self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is a major blow to the Islamic State. Baghdadi held a kind of elusive charisma for the organization. He will be replaced, but this does not mean that the Islamic State will simply go back to business as usual.

    Oct 28, 2019

  • A convoy of U.S. vehicles after withdrawing from northern Syria, on the outskirts of Dohuk, Iraq, October 21, 2019, photo by Ari Jalal/Reuters

    Commentary

    How the U.S. Withdrawal from Syria Provides a Boost to ISIS

    President Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria could provide the ISIS terrorist group with the time and space to regrow its organization and extend its networks throughout the Middle East. The longer-term strategic effects of the decision could reverberate in the region for years to come.

    Oct 21, 2019

  • A convoy of U.S. vehicles is seen after withdrawing from northern Syria, in Erbil, Iraq October 21, 2019, photo by Azad Lashkari/Reuters

    Commentary

    The Syrian Withdrawal: Where Things Stand

    Without an orderly process for its national security decisions, the Trump administration has defaulted to the worst option regarding Syria. The sudden withdrawal of U.S. forces has left an opening for Russia to exploit. It also left the Kurds, a U.S. partner, to fend off a Turkish assault.

    Oct 21, 2019

  • Journal Article

    Journal Article

    Winning the Peace in Iraq: Don't Give Up on Baghdad's Fragile Democracy

    Following years of war, Iraq's parliamentary government is stable and concerned with governance rather than sectarianism. But the work is not yet complete, and the author stresses diligence and patience before a lasting peace can be achieved.

    Oct 11, 2019

  • The al-Hol displacement camp in Hasaka governorate, Syria, holds thousands of detainees linked to ISIS, April 2, 2019, photo by Ali Hashisho/Reuters

    Commentary

    The Terrorist Threat Posed by Neglect and Indifference

    Western countries have seemingly washed their hands when it comes to the aftermath of ISIS. By ignoring the threat and leaving it to the Iraqis and Syrian Kurds to deal with European citizens in detention camps, Western nations are helping the terrorists' ideology persist.

    Sep 23, 2019

  • The Maute group stronghold with an ISIS flag in Marawi City, in southern Philippines, May 29, 2017, photo by Erik De Castro/Reuters

    Commentary

    Southeast Asia Loves ISIS, but Is the Feeling Mutual?

    As the ISIS core in Iraq and Syria attempts to rebuild, Baghdadi and his lieutenants will have to make difficult decisions about where to allocate resources. Now that the caliphate is gone and ISIS must transform into an insurgency, the largely untested lands of Southeast Asia may yield rich rewards.

    Sep 16, 2019

  • 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

    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?

    Sep 5, 2019

  • A young boy waves a black flag inscribed with Islamic verses at a rally of Tunisian Salafi Islamists in the central town of Kairouan, May 20, 2012, photo by Anis Mili/Reuters

    Report

    What Will Drive the Next Generation of Salafi-Jihadis?

    Continued economic stagnation and a high youth unemployment rate, exacerbated by the Muslim youth bulge, could lead to failed expectations and spur radicalization among disenchanted Gen Z Muslims. And this cohort's familiarity with the internet could foreshadow an adaptive, tech-savvy terrorist threat.

    Aug 22, 2019

  • RAND Weekly Recap

    Blog

    Gun Policy, Cannabis, ISIS: RAND Weekly Recap

    This weekly recap looks at gun policy in America, the cannabis market in Washington state, countering an ISIS comeback, and more.

    Aug 9, 2019

  • 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

    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.

    Aug 8, 2019

  • News Release

    News Release

    Follow the Money: How the United States Can Counteract the Islamic State's Plans for a Comeback

    With the end of its territorial caliphate, the Islamic State will almost certainly attempt a comeback. Such efforts will require money. A new RAND report examines the group as an insurgency and a self-styled caliphate, with a focus on how the group managed its finances, drawing from the literature, the group's documents, and interviews with individuals who lived under the caliphate.

    Aug 8, 2019

  • RAND Weekly Recap

    Blog

    ISIS, Homelessness, India's Election: RAND Weekly Recap

    This weekly recap focuses on what can be done about ISIS detainees, a program that helps reduce homelessness, Modi's reelection in India, and more.

    Jun 7, 2019

  • Research Brief

    Research Brief

    The Growing Need to Focus on Modern Political Warfare

    RAND researchers analyzed how political warfare is practiced today and identified ways that the U.S. government, its allies, and its partners can respond to or engage in this type of conflict to achieve U.S. ends and protect U.S. interests.

    May 31, 2019

  • A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces escorts a blindfolded civilian detainee suspected to be a member of Islamic State militants in Raqqa, October 12, 2017, photo by Issam Abdallah/Reuters

    Journal Article

    Options for Dealing with ISIS Foreign Fighters Detained in Syria

    The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are holding thousands of fighters who had joined ISIS's ranks from abroad as well as members of their families. What the world does (or does not do) about them could affect the future stability of the region and the countries from which they came.

    May 31, 2019

  • Damaged artifacts inside the museum of the historic city of Palmyra, Syria, March 27, 2016, photo by SANA/Reuters

    Commentary

    We're Just Beginning to Grasp the Toll of the Islamic State's Archaeological Looting in Syria

    During the Islamic State's rise, looted artifacts were said to be a significant source of income for the group. But no one had identified the value, using empirical data and systematic calculations, of the artifacts that were known to exist in Syria's archaeological sites. Until now.

    May 15, 2019

  • Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces with a captured ISIS flag in Raqqa, Syria, August 14, 2017, photo by Zohra Bensemra/Reuters

    Commentary

    Baghdadi Resurfaces: What It Means for ISIS's Global Terror Campaign

    With last week's release of a video of Abu Bakr Baghdadi, ISIS showed that it's still got some life left—literally. The most important message to take away from the Baghdadi video may be that the Islamic State does not need territory to survive and even thrive.

    May 6, 2019

  • Security personnel stand guard in front of St. Anthony's Shrine, days after a string of suicide bomb attacks across the island on Easter Sunday, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 29, 2019, photo by Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

    Commentary

    Sri Lanka's Easter Attacks: Dismantling Myths to Prevent the Next Attack

    On Easter Sunday, suicide bombers hit six locations across Sri Lanka, killing more than 250 people. Even before ISIS claimed responsibility, there was no obvious connection to the quarter-century of violence that afflicted the nation until 2009. It is worth dismantling a few myths that might prevent better preparation for future attacks.

    May 6, 2019