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)

  • Periodical

    RAND Review: January-February 2017

    This issue highlights ways that RAND researchers on the ground in Uganda are having a measurable impact on the lives of men and women struggling with HIV and depression. The issue also features a tribute to the late economist Charles Wolf Jr.

    Jan 12, 2017

  • Testimony

    Fifteen Years After 9/11: A Preliminary Balance Sheet: Addendum

    Document submitted on January 11, 2017 as an addendum to testimony presented before the House Armed Services Committee on September 21, 2016.

    Jan 12, 2017

  • Silhouettes of people on a Syrian national flag are seen at a peace march in Damascus, September 21, 2016

    Report

    How to Prevent State Collapse in Syria

    Syria will likely be a weak state in a volatile region when its civil war ends. How can U.S. policy create conditions for a transition that helps fight terrorism and preserve state institutions?

    Jan 9, 2017

  • French police secure a street near a travel agency where a gunman took seven people hostage in a robbery, in Paris, France, December 2, 2016

    Commentary

    Crime and Terror in Europe: Where the Nexus Is Alive and Well

    The idea of a crime-terror nexus does appear to be a major threat in Europe, where terrorists and criminals now recruit from the same milieu. Coperation between European law enforcement and intelligence agencies is critical.

    Dec 15, 2016

  • Afghan National Army soldiers inspect passengers at a checkpoint in eastern Afghanistan, June 29, 2015, after Islamic State fighters had seized territory from rival Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan for the first time

    Commentary

    The Islamic State-Taliban Rivalry in Afghanistan

    The weakening of the Islamic State is a positive step. But Taliban successes against the group have strengthened the Taliban's power, bolstered its reputation, and complicated U.S. and Afghan government efforts to wind down the Afghan war.

    Nov 28, 2016

  • A boy holds up a white flag in Mosul, Iraq, November 16, 2016

    Commentary

    What ISIS Leaves Behind in Mosul Will Reveal a Lot

    The capture of Mosul, Iraq, may produce a potential trove of information about how ISIS organized itself to run a large city. Collecting, analyzing, and disseminating this material will be a major effort, one of the most important as the city is liberated.

    Nov 18, 2016

  • A Peshmerga soldier talks with a boy who is fleeing the fighting between Islamic State and the Iraqi army in Mosul, Iraq, November 14, 2016

    Commentary

    What the Battles of Mosul and Aleppo Tell Us About Their Countries' Futures

    The battle of Mosul is not just about defeating ISIS. It is about restoring Mosul to the multi-ethnic city it once was. The Syrian government's style of warfare in Aleppo, however, accepts that Syria will remain a divided country.

    Nov 14, 2016

  • Smoke rises during clashes in the town of Bashiqa, east of Mosul, during an operation to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, November 8, 2016

    Commentary

    How Will Jihadist Strategy Evolve As the Islamic State Declines?

    As ISIL experiences ongoing battlefield losses it will have to rework its strategy to sustain itself as a preeminent jihadist brand. Meanwhile, the group will likely place greater emphasis on smaller scale strikes that require less central direction.

    Nov 10, 2016

  • A member of the Nusra Front squats in Ariha, Syria, after a coalition of insurgent groups seized the area, May 29, 2015

    Commentary

    Al Nusra Is Stronger Than Ever

    While the West targets ISIS, Jabhat Fateh al Sham, formerly known as Jabhat al Nusra, is quietly laying the groundwork for al Qaeda's resurgence.

    Nov 2, 2016

  • Iraqi special forces soldiers drive in a desert near Mosul, Iraq, October 25, 2016

    Commentary

    Can the Islamic State Lose Mosul and Still Win?

    The loss of Mosul would be a serious blow for the Islamic State but past insurgencies suggest it is far too early to count the Islamic State out.

    Oct 31, 2016

  • Al Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahri speaks from an unknown location in a still image taken from video uploaded to the web on June 8, 2011

    Commentary

    Al Qaeda's Ruthless Pragmatism Makes It More Dangerous Than the Islamic State

    Al Qaeda presents a graver long-term threat to the West than the Islamic State. It has proved more effective in exploiting U.S. policy in the Middle East to legitimize itself as an armed force and, increasingly, as a viable political player.

    Oct 27, 2016

  • A convoy of Iraqi security forces advances on the outskirts of Mosul, ready to fight Islamic State militants, October 12, 2016

    Commentary

    After the Battle for Mosul, Get Ready for ISIS to Go Underground

    Only once ISIS's underground network is defeated will there be a real chance for enduring security and stability in Mosul.

    Oct 18, 2016

  • A 3D printed logo of Twitter and an Islamic State flag

    Commentary

    Fighting the Islamic State on Social Media

    Countering ISIL in the real world also requires countering its messaging online. It is critical that the U.S. and its international partners work with influential communities in the region that can more effectively and credibly counter the ISIL narrative.

    Oct 11, 2016

  • World map concept with puzzle pieces

    Essay

    Election 2016: The International Issues

    America's next president will face challenges that test the fundamentals of world order. RAND experts have outlined key decisions, the dangers involved, and the least-bad options that now often pass for good ones.

    Oct 7, 2016

  • A man arrives at the World Trade Center complex on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in New York City, September 11, 2016

    Testimony

    Fifteen Years After 9/11: A Preliminary Balance Sheet

    Fifteen years after 9/11, the United States is better organized and equipped to combat terrorism. But the country still faces a multi-tiered threat, and its citizens remain fearful.

    Sep 21, 2016

  • The 'Tribute in Lights' shines on the skyline of lower Manhattan in New York City, September 11, 2006

    Commentary

    Fifteen Years After 9/11, What Is the State of the 'War on Terror'?

    Much has changed since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Counterterrorism efforts have made progress, and Americans are safer. But it's unclear how much further the fight against terrorism has to go.

    Sep 7, 2016

  • Syria Democratic Forces fighters inspect a center used by Islamic State religious police in Manbij, Aleppo Governorate, Syria, August 16, 2016

    Commentary

    Demystifying the Islamic State

    To counter the threat posed by the Islamic State group, it is crucial to understand what the terrorist organization is and what it is not. Attributing all jihadist violence to a ruthless gang headquartered in Raqqa exaggerates the power of the group and plays into their propaganda and recruiting efforts.

    Aug 23, 2016

  • News Release

    U.S. Social Media Strategy Can Weaken ISIS Influence on Twitter

    On Twitter, there are six times more ISIS opponents than supporters, but those who support ISIS are more active. U.S. officials could help ISIS opponents enhance the effectiveness and reach of their messaging by offering social media training.

    Aug 16, 2016

  • The ISIS hashtag is seen typed into a Twitter smartphone app, February 6, 2016

    Report

    Examining ISIS Support and Opposition on Twitter

    ISIS uses Twitter to inspire followers, recruit fighters, and spread its message. Its opponents use Twitter to denounce the group. An analysis of the communities opposed to ISIS suggests inroads for influence that the U.S. government's social media strategy should explore.

    Aug 16, 2016

  • U.S. Capitol Building, Washington, D.C.

    Blog

    A Summer Reading List for Congress

    To help Hill staffers make the most of the Congressional recess, RAND has developed a list of must-read research and commentaries that will help ensure policymakers will return ready to hit the ground running.

    Aug 2, 2016