AOAV: all our reports

Fact sheet: Explosive weapons

The use of explosive weapons in populated areas is a major concern for AOAV. From air-dropped bombs destroying apartment blocks the cities of Syria to suicide bombers in Baghdad’s markets, the use of explosive weapons in populated areas causes a sadly predictable pattern of excessive civilian harm.

AOAV is at the forefront of international efforts to mitigate the severe human suffering caused by the use of such weapons.

We record how they kill, injure, and destroy the lives of tens of thousands of civilians each year.

Our position is clear: Explosive weapons with wide-area impacts are unacceptable for use in populated areas.

These weapons should be stigmatised and subject to strong international standards. This includes the prohibitions or restriction of their use in populated areas.


Explosive weapons are weapons that share common characteristics.  They are weapons that cause injuries, death and damage by projecting explosive blast, heat, and often fragmentation around a point of detonation. These weapons include a variety of munitions such as air-dropped bombs, mortars, improvised explosive devices, and artillery shells.


On 1 October 2010, AOAV’s Explosive Violence Monitoring Project began recording global data on the harm caused by explosive weapons. AOAV monitors English-language media reports of explosive weapons incidents which cause at least one casualty.

Data on the context of the incident and details of the resulting harm is recorded and analysed on an ongoing basis. The data collected includes civilian and combatant casualties, the type of explosive weapon used, the means of deployment, the user of the weapon, and the location of the incident.

Data recorded by AOAV in 2012 strongly reinforces evidence that when explosive weapons are used in populated areas the victims are overwhelmingly civilians.

Out of the total 34,758 casualties of explosive violence recorded, 78% (27,052) of persons killed or injured were reported to be civilians. This was a significant 26% increase in the number of civilians killed and injured by explosive weapons in 2012 compared to data recorded by AOAV in 2011.

Civilians were even more at risk when explosive weapons were used in populated areas. In 2012, civilians made up 91% of victims of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, compared to 32% in other areas. This was also an increase from 2011, where civilians made up 84% of the total victims in populated areas.

AOAV IG1p - Overview A3 FINAL ext

An overview of AOAV’s key findings in 2012


AOAV recorded harm from explosive weapon use across 58 countries and territories in 2012.

Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria were the top five most heavily affected countries by explosive violence. AOAV recorded 80% of all civilian casualties worldwide in 2012 in these countries alone.

Syria was the single most affected country by explosive weapons in 2012. AOAV recorded a nearly 800% increase in civilian casualties in Syria in 2012. Iraq had been the most heavily affected country in 2011.

In 2012, AOAV also recorded increases in explosive violence in Iraq, Thailand, Gaza, and Kenya.

At the other end of the scale, in 13 countries there was only one recorded incident. Civilian casualties from explosive violence decreased notably in a few countries in 2012, including in Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, and ceased to be recorded in Côte d’Ivoire.

In many places levels of explosive violence remained depressingly static.

MIGw Countries v1.0

58 countries and territories were affected by explosive violence in 2012.


In populated areas, 91% of explosive violence casualties were reported as civilians, compared to 32% in other areas. This was an increase from 2011, where 84% of casualties in populated areas were civilians, compared to 35% elsewhere.

This increase was recorded amidst increasing concern in 2012 over the size and power of explosive weapons being used in populated areas, as well as the means of their deployment, particularly in Syria.

The majority of the incidents (61% or 1,674 incidents) occurred in populated areas.

In 2012, AOAV recorded 24,603 civilian deaths and injuries in populated areas.

In about two thirds of all these 2012 incidents, civilians accounted for 90% of those hurt or killed. This pattern is not surprising. When explosive weapons are used in areas where civilians are concentrated, civilians are at greater risk of harm.

The very nature of explosive weapons’ blast and fragmentation effects compounds the harm they cause in populated areas. In 2012, when an explosive weapon was used in a populated area, 16 people were on average killed or injured per incident. This was more than double the average recorded in areas that were not reported as populated.


Air dropped bombsAir-launched weapons

Air-launched explosive weapons include a variety of ordnance ranging from unguided bombs dropped from planes to guided missiles fired by drones. AOAV recorded that air-launched explosive weapons caused nine percent of all civilian casualties in 2012. More than twice as many civilian casualties were recorded from air-launched explosive weapons in 2012 than in 2011. This substantial rise was linked to the increasingly widespread use of air-delivered weapons in populated areas in Syria.


  • Air strike: The broadest recording category in this grouping. It refers to incidents where explosive weapons were reported as delivered by drones, planes, helicopters, or other aircraft, and the type of munition fired was not specified in the news source. Where the munition used is specified in news sources they are recorded as a more specific weapon category.
  • Air-dropped bomb: Refers to bombs reported as being delivered by air. References to areas being ‘bombed’ by military aircraft were recorded as air-dropped bomb incidents. This can include makeshift manually-deployed bombs, as well as cluster bombs.
  • Missile: These may be air or ground-launched and were recorded when reference was made to a ‘missile’ being explosive.
  • Rocket: These may be air or ground-launched. Rockets were recorded wherever they are specified in a news source, or where a known rocket type was reported in the incident (e.g. Grad, Katyusha).

The impact of air-launched weapons in 2012

  • Air-launched explosive weapons were responsible for 9% of civilian casualties recorded in 2012 (2,518).
  • 87% of casualties were reported to be civilians when air-launched explosive weapons were used in populated areas.
  • Air-launched explosive weapons were used in 30% of all incidents involving the use of manufactured explosive weapon in populated areas. 70% of incidents were ground-launched.
  • Air-dropped bombs and rockets stood out as air-launched explosive weapons types causing particularly high percentages of civilian casualties (82%).
  • AOAV recorded 92 incidents of drone strikes in 2012 in six different countries and territories. This was an increase of 17% from 2011.

Ground-launched weaponGround-launched weapons

Ground-launched manufactured explosive weapons include a broad range of weapons, from small hand grenades to large artillery and mortar shells, fired from land or sea. In 2012, AOAV recorded that ground-launched weapons caused 25% of all civilian casualties reported worldwide (6,508).

Of all casualties caused by ground-launched explosive weapons in 2012, 86% were reported to have been civilians. Ground-launched explosive weapons tended to be used more frequently in populated areas than air-launched weapons. This may explain why ground-launched explosive weapons resulted in a higher proportion of civilian casualties than aerial attacks.


  • Unspecified shelling: The broadest recording category in this grouping. It refers to reports of the use of explosive shells which did not specify how they were delivered (e.g. mortars, artillery, or tanks).
  • Artillery shell: A projectile fired from a gun, cannon, howitzer, or recoilless gun/rifle. This refers to medium and large-calibre munitions primarily designed to fire indirectly.26 Incidents were recorded as an artillery shell wherever specified in sources.
  • Mortar: Incidents where reports specified that a mortar bomb was the munition used.
  • Tank shell: Explosive shells fired by tanks.
  • Grenade: Incidents where reports indicate grenades deployed an explosive blast and/or fragmentation. Grenades specified as ‘homemade’ were recorded as IEDs.
  • RPG: Rocket-propelled grenades. Grenades which are rifle-launched were recorded as grenades rather than RPGs.

The impact of ground-launched weapons in 2012

  • Ground-launched explosive weapons were responsible for 25% of civilian casualties recorded in 2012.
  • 86% of total casualties from these types of weapons were civilians in 2012. This was up from 73% in 2011.
  • 80% of these incidents occurred in populated areas.
  • Mortars were among the worst types of ground-launched explosive weapons causing high levels of civilian harm. 90% of mortar casualties were civilians.

IEDImprovised explosive devices (IEDs)

In 2012, IEDs, as opposed to manufactured explosive ordnance such as artillery or mortars, were responsible for over half (60%) of the total casualties from explosive weapons use recorded by AOAV.

The percentage of IED casualties that were civilians increased from 76% in 2011 to 81% in 2012. IEDs were the predominant explosive weapon used by non-state armed groups (73%). Civilian casualties from IEDs were recorded in 42 different countries and territories in 2012. As in 2011, IED use was particularly intense in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.


  • Non-specific IED: The broadest recording category in this grouping. It refers to all IEDs which could not be categorised as either ‘roadside bombs’ or ‘car bombs.’
  • Car bomb: Incidents where the IED was clearly described as a ‘car bomb,’ or other vehicles. IEDs which were reported as being attached to vehicles, such as a sticky bomb attached to a car or a remote control IED attached to a bicycle, were recorded as ‘non-specific IEDs.’
  • Roadside bomb: IEDs which were either specifically reported as ‘roadside bombs’ or where an IED was reported to be used alongside a road and no further information was provided.
  • Multiple IED types: Incidents where a combination of different IEDs were used in an incident, and where news sources did not separately attribute casualties from individual devices.

The impact of IEDs in 2012

  • 60% (20,914) of total casualties from explosive weapons use were caused by IEDs.
  • 81% (16,933) of these were reported to be civilians.
  • An average of 23 civilians were killed or injured in IED attacks involving suicide. This was double the average recorded for other IED types – such as those detonated by remote-control or a timer.
  • Car bomb explosions in populated areas caused an average of 32 civilian casualties per incident.

EVMP12w - Weapon types FINAL


Large scale blast and fragmentation
Weapons which can project a large amount of blast and fragmentation across a wide area, such as airdropped bombs and car bombs containing large quantities of explosives, were frequently the cause of mass casualty incidents in 2012.

Inaccuracy of delivery
When armed actors were reported to be the target of attacks, civilians made up 52% of the recorded casualties. When attacks targeting armed actors occurred in populated areas, the percentage of civilian casualties increased dramatically to 80%.

Multiple munitions
The use of multiple explosive weapons in combination simultaneously across urban areas was one of the most destructive patterns of explosive violence recorded by AOAV. More than 2,500 casualties were recorded worldwide from the use of combinations of ground-launched explosive weapons, like when rockets, artillery, and mortars were used to shell Syrian cities.


An Explosive Situation: Monitoring Explosive Violence in 2012

Monitoring Explosive Violence: The EVMP dataset 2011

Infographics: Key findings of 2012 | Comparing 2012 and 2011 | Hardest-hit provinces of Syria in 2012 |Deadliest weapons in 2012