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.

  • The Grand al-Nuri Mosque where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a new caliphate in July 2014 is seen in ruins after it was retaken by Iraqi forces from Islamic State militants, June 30, 2017, photo by Alaa Al-Marjani/Reuters

    Commentary

    Can the Islamic State Survive If Baghdadi Is Dead?

    Jun 30, 2017

    If and when self-declared Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is killed, it will have little effect on the threat posed by the Islamic State to global security. The far more important objective is to continue dismantling the organization as a whole, including its affiliates in Libya, Egypt, Nigeria, and Afghanistan.

  • An Iraqi flag is seen amid destroyed buildings in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq, July 23, 2017, photo by Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters

    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)

  • Multimedia

    RAND Experts Discuss Iran’s Role in Iraq: Room for Cooperation

    Alireza Nader, senior international policy analyst with the RAND Corporation, discusses his study, “Iran's Role in Iraq: Room for Cooperation?” with Khorshied Samad, RAND senior media relations officer and Lisa Sodders, RAND media relations officer.

    Jun 2, 2015

  • Hashid Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation) allied with Iraqi forces against the Islamic State, preparing to attack Tikrit March 26, 2015

    Report

    Could U.S.-Iran Cooperation Help Combat ISIL?

    Limited tactical cooperation between the United States and Iran may be possible in weakening ISIL even if the two nations don't share long-term interests. U.S. and Iranian military forces are fighting the same enemy in Iraq, and U.S. air power seems to complement Iran's on-the-ground presence.

    Jun 1, 2015

  • Iraqi security forces during a patrol, looking for Islamic State militants on the outskirts of Ramadi, April 9, 2015

    Commentary

    Iraq Is Bankrolling ISIL

    Iraq continues to fund ISIL by continuing salaries to the many Iraqi government employees who live in ISIL-controlled territory. That fact is a reminder of how poorly the country has been governed.

    May 26, 2015

  • A still from video purportedly of Islamic State militants, posted to social media sites on April 19, 2015

    Commentary

    Who Runs the Islamic State Group?

    Despite the Islamic State's notoriety, a wide range of theories are still circulating about who really runs the group.

    May 22, 2015

  • People run for cover after an explosion in Jalalabad April 18, 2015

    Commentary

    Has Islamic State Entered Afghanistan?

    The bulk of the Islamic State of Khorasan is thought to be in Pakistan, but the group is trying to make inroads into Afghanistan. That said, the group's actual ability to operate in Afghanistan appears rather limited.

    May 4, 2015

  • Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi observe a guard of honour at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, April 29, 2015

    Commentary

    Seduced by a Strongman?

    It is not true that domestic politics can be quarantined from foreign policy. In fact, Egypt's domestic and foreign policies are becoming more entangled by the day. And that bleed-over should raise concerns.

    Apr 30, 2015

  • Events @ RAND Audio Podcast

    Multimedia

    Is Bipartisan National Security Policy Possible in Today's Political Environment?

    Should the United States make a nuclear deal with Iran? What threat do cyber attacks pose to our nation? Should there be intelligence reform? In this Events @ RAND podcast, Mike Rogers speaks to these and other timely national security issues.

    Apr 21, 2015

  • Testimony

    There Will Be Battles in the Heart of Your Abode: The Threat Posed by Foreign Fighters Returning From Syria and Iraq: Addendum

    Document submitted on April 17, 2015 as an addendum to testimony presented before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on March 12, 2015.

    Apr 17, 2015

  • A damaged picture of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in Idlib, March 28, 2015

    Commentary

    Syria and Iraq: Inside the Terrorist Factory

    As the civil wars in Syria and Iraq continue, they sharpen the sectarian divide between Sunnis and Shias, threatening the stability of the region and attracting a steady flow of foreign volunteers, effectively turning Syria and Iraq into a terrorist factory.

    Mar 30, 2015

  • Militant Islamist fighters on a tank take part in a military parade along the streets of northern Raqqa province, Syria, June 30, 2014

    Testimony

    The Continuing Lure of Violent Jihad

    As the civil wars in Syria and Iraq continue, so does the terrorist threat emanating from these conflicts. Two galaxies of jihadist terrorists in the region pose a credible danger to the U.S. homeland: al Qaeda and its affiliates and ISIL. But the most likely threat comes from homegrown terrorists.

    Mar 24, 2015

  • Spanish police arresting a woman suspected of recruiting women to go to Syria and Iraq to support Islamic State insurgents

    Commentary

    The Allure of ISIS for Young Recruits

    Poverty and oppression may explain why people in some countries embrace violent extremism, but it does not account for the flow of Western volunteers or the dreamy allure of fighting for a faraway cause. Biographies of those who have reached out to participate in jihad suggest a variety of motives, including alienation, personal crises, dissatisfaction with empty spiritual lives, and adolescent rebellion.

    Mar 20, 2015

  • Armored vehicles of Iraqi security forces with militias known as Hashid Shaabi passing smoke arising from a clash with Islamic State militants in the town of al-Alam, March 10, 2015

    Commentary

    Means Matter: Competent Ground Forces and the Fight Against ISIL

    If Iraqi security forces are incapable of defeating ISIL in the cities where they have gone to ground, then the only reliable means available are U.S. ground combat forces. The U.S. Army and Marine Corps have all the skills in joint combined arms warfare that the ISF lacks.

    Mar 19, 2015

  • Testimony

    Containing Middle East Terror: Measures to Reduce the Threat Posed By Foreign Fighters Returning from Syria and Iraq

    Testimony presented before the House Homeland Security Committee, Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security on March 17, 2015.

    Mar 17, 2015

  • A Paris crowd displaying the portraits of five of the people killed during the attack at Charlie Hebdo on January 7, 2015

    Commentary

    Attempting to Understand the Paris Attacks

    The investigation will eventually fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge of the events leading up to the attacks in Paris, but some questions will remain unanswered. Embedded in the unknowns are some of the chronic dilemmas faced by counterterrorist authorities everywhere.

    Feb 26, 2015

  • Houses that Faisal Shahzad and Sinh Vinh Ngo Nguyen lived in before they please guilty to terrorism charges.

    Essay

    Enemies Among Us: What We Know About Homegrown Terrorists

    Dozens of young Americans have attempted to join overseas jihadist groups in the past several years, raising special concern among counterterrorism officials that they might bring the fight home with them when they return.

    Feb 26, 2015

  • Libyan Police prepare during the start of a security plan to increase security in Tripoli, February 9, 2015

    Commentary

    Somalia on the Mediterranean

    Libya is as vulnerable to further inroads by ISIS now as Syria was a year ago. What can the United States and its allies do to stop the hemorrhaging? Many options have been debated, but none look very promising.

    Feb 19, 2015

  • An MQ-9 Reaper sits on the flightline at Creech Air Force Base, NV

    Commentary

    Armed Drone Myth 1: They Will Transform How War Is Waged Globally

    Long-range military drones are fundamentally misunderstood. Their champions wrongly contend they are revolutionizing warfare, while critics fear their spread would greatly increase the threat that China, terrorists, and others pose.

    Feb 17, 2015

  • A masked man speaking in what is believed to be a North American accent in a video that Islamic State militants released in September

    Report

    When Jihadis Come Marching Home

    Although the numbers of Westerners slipping off to join the jihadist fronts in Syria and Iraq are murky, U.S. counterterrorism officials believe that those fighters pose a clear and present danger to American security.

    Feb 16, 2015

  • Silhouette of soldier

    Testimony

    The Growing Strategic Threat of Radical Islamist Ideology

    The threat posed by ISIS is expanding through the Middle East, North Africa, and other areas of the world. While that threat is portrayed as terrorism, a greater danger is ideology tied to extremism and violence.

    Feb 12, 2015

  • A man purported to be ISIS captive Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh in a cage in a still image from an undated video filmed from an undisclosed location, made available on social media on February 3, 2015

    Commentary

    ISIS's Calculated Barbarity

    ISIS's decision to murder its Jordanian hostage by burning him alive may turn out to be a strategic miscalculation, but it is not madness. Through self-selection, continued fighting, and the exaltation of unlimited violence, ISIS has created a cult whose members command and revel in displays of ever-increasing cruelty.

    Feb 10, 2015