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Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism, Suicide Attack Database

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 11.47.04Location: Chicago, USA


The Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism is a research institute based at the University of Chicago. It was founded by Robert Pape in 2004, and largely focuses on terrorism research. The aim of the Project is to “produce peer-reviewed scholarship that bridges the gap between scholars and policymakers via conferences and media engagements.”

The Suicide Attack Database, monitoring suicide attacks globally, is run by the Chicago Project. This freely available database is “the best and most comprehensive suicide attack database available.”

It was created post-9/11, when, as Keven Ruby, a researcher for CPOST told AOAV, “there was a general realisation that there was not a very good understanding of suicide terrorism or suicide attacks.”

Established in 2004, the database comprises 
of a complete list of suicide attacks since 1982. The entire database is freely available to the public, searchable by a number of fields, and downloadable (either in full or part). This enables users themselves to review and analyse the data, making it a useful tool for researchers.

In order to be included on the database, an attack must meet two criteria:

  1. At least one attacker must kill him or herself to kill others;
  2. The suicide attack must be verified by at least two independent sources.

Failed and possible attacks are not included in the database.

From 1982 to the end of June 2015, the database contained a total of 4,620 attacks in 47 countries.

The database is searchable online by the following fields: year; location; group; campaign; target type; weapon; and gender. C-Post does not explicitly define a suicide attack by the weapon used (i.e. whether it involved an IED). However all the incidents in the dataset include explosive devices. Within the ‘weapon’ field, it can be searched by airplane, belt bomb, car bomb, and unspecified. The database is regularly updated, and is suitable for on-going analysis.

Targets are coded as security, political, and civilian. This is useful in analysing the impact of suicide attacks on the community, and specifically their impact on civilians.

Primarily CPOST uses open-source news websites and archives such as Lexis Nexis and Such sources tend to provide information on the target of an attack, the weapon used, and details of casualties. CPOST also uses militant websites, martyr videos, and social media to find claims of attacks and any information not contained in the media.

The Suicide Attack Database only records those IED incidents involving a suicide component. This is a relatively small percentage of all IED incidents. While the database shows important trends in the use of suicide IEDs, its utility is limited to this. A limitation of the database is that, in order to be included, an incident must be independently verified by two sources which are available to the public. While this increases the reliability of the database, incidents which are only reported by one source will not be included.

This profile is part of AOAV’s investigation into counter-IED (C-IED) actors around the globe. To see the list of all C-IED actors recorded by AOAV, see here. To see those engaged in the Middle East, the Sahel, North Africa or other highly impacted countries please see here, here, here, and here respectively. This research was made possible by funding from the NATO Counter Improvised Explosive Devices Centre of Excellence (C-IED COE). To read the full report, ‘Addressing the threat posed by IEDs: National, Regional and Global Initiatives’, see here.