Number of suicide attacks claimed by the Islamic State dipped in September

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The Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency claims that the group launched 53 “martyrdom operations” in Iraq and Syria during the month of September. The figure was first published on an Arabic infographic (seen above) that was released by Amaq on Oct. 6.

Amaq has produced similar infographics for each of the prior months in 2016. Through the first nine months of the year, Amaq has claimed a total of 782 suicide bombings in Iraq, Syria and Libya, for an average of 87 per month.

However, according to Amaq’s figures, the Islamic State launched fewer suicide attacks in September than in any previous month this year. The prior low was in July, when 59 of the so-called caliphate’s “martyrs” blew themselves up. The high water mark came in May, when 119 “martyrdom operations” were purportedly carried out.

Even though the number of suicide bombings dipped in September, the Islamic State has still claimed a historically high number of “martyrdom” attacks in 2016.

The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) maintains an “unclassified event database compiled from information in open-source reports of terrorist attacks.” The State Department relies upon the data each year in its Country Reports on Terrorism. According to START, all terrorist groups, including the Islamic State, carried out an average of 61 suicide bombings per month in 2015, which saw more suicide attacks than any previous year.

That previous monthly high is significantly less than the average of 87 martyrdom operations per month claimed by the Islamic State during the current calendar year.

Targets of the Islamic State’s “martyrs” from January through September 2016

Most of the Islamic State’s “martyrdom operations” during the first nine months of 2016, 463 of the 782 claimed (59 percent), have been carried out inside Iraq. According to Amaq News, 437 of the bombings targeted Iraqi government forces.

The Islamic State launched 289 suicide attacks in Syria (37 percent of the total) during the same time frame. The infographics produced by Amaq indicate that 123 of these targeted the Syrian regime. (Seven of the suicide operatives struck Syrian regime forces in September, including three in the city of Tartus.) More than 100 of the “martyrdom” bombings in Syria since the beginning of the year struck the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and 51 targeted “Syrian Opposition” groups.*

The remaining 29 “martyrdom operations” took place in Libya.** Curiously, Amaq’s infographic for September does not list any suicide bombings in Libya. The Islamic State has been engaged in heavy fighting against local Libyan forces, backed by American Special Forces and airstrikes, in the city of Sirte. In the month of August alone, Amaq claimed 12 “martyrs” gave themselves for the cause in the Libyan city.

Vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) are used more often than individual bombers strapped with explosives, according to Amaq. The infographics count 530 VBIEDs used in suicide attacks (68 percent of the total) as compared to 239 bombings with explosive belts, jackets and vests. The remaining 13 are listed as “dual operations.”

As The Long War Journal has reported in the past, Amaq’s claims regarding the number of suicide attacks should not be accepted uncritically. The figures have not been independently verified. It is possible that some attacks are counted even if they failed. And the Islamic State has used children or adolescents in its bombings, meaning that some of the attackers are not truly willing “martyrs.”

For more on the Islamic State’s claimed suicide operations, see LWJ reports: The Islamic State’s prolific ‘martyrdom’ machine, Islamic State claims nearly 600 suicide attacks in first six months of 2016 and Islamic State claims more than 700 suicide attacks since beginning of the year.

*Amaq’s infographic for July included a single figure for suicide bombings against YPG and Peshmerga forces, making it difficult to determine the total number of bombings that struck solely the YPG. In all other months, the figures for attacks on the YPG and Peshmerga are broken out separately.

**Amaq’s infographic’s sum to 782 total “martyrdom operations” in Iraq, Syria and Libya. However, Amaq’s country-specific data totals to 781.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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3 Comments

  • Frank Dunn says:

    Reduction in suicide attacks might be due to training accidents. Or because the US has joined Europe in opening its doors to poorly vetted Muslims. Or, these Islamic fanatics are running out of gullible recruits. Or, the collapse in oil prices along with lost oil fields has greatly reduced signing bonuses and death benefits. Or, since the Caliphate is shrinking fast, no respectable Sunni Muslim wants to be seen on the losing side.

    Finally, the very nature of suicide vests and car bombs means not only the loss of enemy and innocent lives but also the lives of those who carry out these evil assaults. Even the equally fanatical Japanese kamikazes ran out of pilots and planes by August 1945.

  • Kate says:

    Is this due to a decrease in fighters or a change in tactics (i.e. devices that can be detonated remotely)?

  • Tony says:

    I know they did a few in Afghanistan too. But regardless, people seem to have accepted this as the norm now. I’m sure the Islamic State wants to spin this as “proof” they are still alive and well and powerful. I see this as a sign of their decline. But, that’s also very easy for me to say.

    It will remain to be seen what they will do as their territory shrinks more and more over the coming months. They will most likely try to do more flashy things on the battlefield to make up for their losses.

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