AOAV: all our reports

Explosive States- Monitoring explosive violence in 2014: IEDs

Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs)

  • IEDs were responsible for 17,098 civilian casualties (52% of the total recorded in 2014).
  • 85% of those killed and injured by IEDs were civilians.
  • There was a 26% decrease in the number of civilian casualties caused by IEDs compared to 2013 (17,098 down from 22,829).
  • Three of the five deadliest IED attacks in 2014 took place in Nigeria.

AOAV IEDs (2014)


Even with a surge in state use of explosive weapons the majority of all explosive weapon casualties (people killed and physically injured) recorded by AOAV in 2014 were caused by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) like roadside bombs and car bombs. AOAV recorded 20,645 casualties, of which 17,098 (85%) were civilians.

IEDs caused death and destruction globally, particularly when they were used in populated areas. Where this was the case (in 62% of all IED incidents), civilians made up 93% of the reported casualties, with an average of 22 civilians being killed or injured in each IED attack in a populated area. In contrast, where IED occurred in non-populated areas in 2014 the percentage of civilian casualties fell to 47%.


IEDs resulted in at least one casualty in 36 different countries and territories, including countries facing such diverse security threats as Kenya, Thailand and Libya.

Figure 12 shows the five countries which saw the most civilian casualties from IEDs in 2014. While four of the top five are the same as in 2013, Nigeria experienced a massive rise in IED attacks. (see page 12).

As in 2013, Iraq had by far the most civilian casualties from IEDs. Almost half of the global civilian casualties from IEDs were recorded in Iraq (48%). Despite this, the total number of recorded civilian casualties from IEDs in Iraq dropped by 32% from 2013.[i] There were also notable decreases in civilian casualties in Pakistan (41%), Lebanon (63%) and India (41%). This is not to say that the spread of IED impacts diminished significantly in 2014. AOAV recorded significant rises not only in Nigeria but also China, Egypt and Yemen among others.


IEDs were exclusively used by non-state actors in 2014.[ii] While in the vast majority of attacks (900 of 1100) the perpetrator was not known, where responsibility was reported ISIS (26%), Boko Haram in Nigeria (21%) and the Taliban (13%) were recorded as causing the most civilian casualties of IEDs.

Globally, IED attacks in markets caused the highest number of civilian casualties in 2014, with 109 incidents resulting in 3,304 civilian deaths and injuries. Nine countries had an IED attack in a market but Iraq and Nigeria were most impacted, with 1,250 civilian casualties from IEDs in markets in Iraq and 738 in Nigeria.

One of the worst IED attacks came on 1 July when a car bomb exploded in a market in the northern Nigerian city of Maiduguri. It killed 56 civilians, most of whom were elderly women selling peanuts and lemon juice, and injured another 68.[iii] Markets are often heavily populated with men, women and children buying food and clothes, and are places which should be safe from direct attack or incidental harm.

While IED attacks in Iraq caused the most civilian casualties in 2014, three of the five deadliest global incidents occurred in Nigeria (see Figure 13). The country was plagued with IED attacks, often attributed to Boko Haram, with civilian casualties increasing from 140 in 2013 to 2,345 in 2014.

Nearly all (94%) of all IED incidents in Nigeria took place in populated areas such as mosques and markets. Attacks taking place in such areas caused an average of 53 civilian casualties per incident.

Figure 13: The deadliest IED incidents in 2014

AttackCountryCivilian casualties 
28 November Suicide bombers attack a mosque in KanoNigeria120 killed270 injured
20 MayTwo bombs in a business park in Jos housing a hospital, shops and officesNigeria118 killed45 injured
15 JulySuicide bomber detonates explosives in a car at a market near a mosque in PaktikaAfghanistan89 killed42 injured
14 AprilBoko Haram attack a busy bus station during rush hourNigeria75 killed141 injured
22 AugustSuicide bombing at a mosque during Friday prayersIraq64 killed60 injured


 “I was about 6-7 meters from the second explosion. All I could see was smoke and fire. I have shrapnel injuries all over my body. Some are serious…I saw limbs from other victims…some people even 70 meters away were injured. Some people that were watching on their balconies, children, were killed…”
Male resident of Homs, Syria, injured in a double car bombing in May 2014[iv]

As Figure 14 shows, IED attacks that involved multiple types and a combination of detonation methods unsurprisingly caused the higher levels of civilian harm.

However these attacks were relatively rare in 2014, and made up less than 1% of IED incidents recorded by AOAV. The next section explores the impacts of other IED detonation types.

IED detonation types

Timer-operated IEDs

Timer-operated IEDs are ordinarily detonated by a fuse, clock or a kitchen timer. Left in a populated area, such as a market, they can be particularly dangerous to civilians; they detonate the moment the clock runs out, regardless of who is in their vicinity. While timer-operated IEDs were the least reported mode of IED detonation in 2014, where they were used, an average of 14 civilians were killed or injured in each incident (see Figure 14).[v] On 16 January nine people were killed when a timer-activated IED exploded in the main preaching centre in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, where 800 people had been praying.[vi]

Victim-activated IEDs

Victim-activated devices are detonated when a person or animal stands on them, or when they are driven over.[vii] IEDs detonated in this fashion are considered as de facto antipersonnel mines under the Mine Ban Treaty and are therefore prohibited under international humanitarian law.[viii] Their nature means that they cannot distinguish between armed actors and civilians, and as such are inherently indiscriminate.

For example, two children aged 8 and 10 were killed when they stepped on a roadside bomb in Wardak, Afghanistan on 19 January 2014.[ix] Over a third (39%) of all victim-activated IED incidents in 2014 occurred on roads.

In 2014, victim-activated IEDs resulted in the lowest average civilian casualties per incident, with four civilians being killed or injured in each attack compared to six per each remote detonation, and 14 where a timer is used.

Command-operated IEDs

These are detonated generally by radio signals or command wire. AOAV divides these IEDs between those detonated by remote-control or command, and those that involved the suicide of the perpetrator.

Command-operated IEDs should technically provide the greatest level of control for a user. However, this is not necessarily an assurance of higher protection standards for civilians from incidental harm. AOAV still recorded an average of six civilian casualties per remote-detonated IED attack in 2014. Even where they are used to target armed actors, civilians were often killed or injured by these IEDs in 2014, either because of their large inherent blast effects, deliberate attempts to target civilians, or the deployment of these weapons in populated areas without sufficient control.

Remotely-detonated IEDs can be particularly harmful to civilians when used in populated areas. In those attacks 71% of the casualties were civilians, compared to 38% in non-populated areas. On 9 December 2014, ten people were killed and a further 42 injured when a command-operated IED was detonated on a bus in the Philippines. Many of those killed and injured were students.[x]

Suicide bombings

Suicide bombings, including car bombs operated by suicide bombers, are a form of command-operated IEDs. In total AOAV recorded 248 incidents of IEDs being detonated by suicide bombers in 2014.

Suicide attacks killed and injured 5,501 civilians in 2014, with an average of 22 civilian casualties in each bombing. Of the total civilian casualties of IEDs in 2014, 32% were caused by suicide bombings.

AOAV recorded suicide attacks in 17 countries.  The countries most affected by suicide attacks in 2014 were: Iraq (2,345 civilian casualties), Afghanistan (805), Nigeria (751), Pakistan (496), and Yemen (359).

“This indiscriminate attack in an area crowded with civilians demonstrates a complete disregard for civilian lives. Deliberately and indiscriminately causing death and injury to such a large number of civilians is an atrocity.”

Nicholas Haysom, United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA), after a suicide bombing killed 47 civilians at a volleyball game in Paktika, 23 November 2014[xi]

This form of IED attack can have a particularly devastating impact when triggered among crowded populated areas. On average, as Figure 14 shows, suicide bombs caused 22 civilians casualties per incident. The toll had the capacity to be far higher. On 2 November for example, at least 58 people were killed and 110 injured in a suicide blast in Lahore, Pakistan, when a bomber targeted a parade near the Indian border.[xii] An unexploded jacket discovered at the site was found to contain 10kg of explosive and 2,500 ball-bearings.[xiii]

In 2014, some of the most destructive suicide attacks were against places of worship, where AOAV recorded an average of 51 civilian casualties per attack. All such incidents occurred in Iraq. On 27 May, 19 people were killed and 34 injured when a bomber detonated explosives inside a Shia mosque. Most of the victims were reported to be merchants and shopkeepers who were praying at the mosque.[xiv]

One concerning development in recent years is the increase in suicide bombings in Africa. While countries like Iraq and Afghanistan consistently see higher numbers of civilian casualties from this detonation method, there has been a steady increase in the use of such IEDs across the continent since the 1980s. According to the Suicide Attack Database, the number of suicide attacks in 2014 in Africa was higher than any previous year before records began in 1981.[xv]

AOAV data reveals a similar pattern of concern. Six African countries reported casualties from suicide attacks in 2014; Egypt, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Nigeria and Somalia. Libya, which recorded its first ever suicide bombing in December 2013, saw five suicide attacks in 2014.

Nigeria saw more civilian casualties from suicide bombings than any other country in 2014 bar Iraq and Afghanistan. Half of all incidents in Nigeria (51%) involved a suicide bomber. This can be contrasted with the global statistics, where 23% of IED incidents were suicide attacks. Since 2011, AOAV has recorded 1,915 civilian casualties from 52 incidents of suicide bombings in Nigeria. Almost half the incidents (46%) and 39% of civilian casualties in the country took place in 2014.

[i] AOAV recorded 12,256 civilian casualties from IEDs in Iraq in 2013.

[ii] Barrel bombs, used by Syrian and Iraqi state forces, can be considered improvised explosive devices but are recorded as a subset of air-dropped bombs to reflect the ambiguity of media reporting of their use. They are documented in detail on pages XXXXX.

[iii] “Car bomb kills at least 56 in Nigerian city, civilian group says,” The Associated Press, posted by Fox News, 01 July 2014, (accessed 21 May 2015).

[iv] Human Rights Watch, “Syria: Car Bombs, Mortars Hit Residential Areas,” 1 May 2014, (accessed 21 May 2015).

[v] Only 2% of IED attacks with a reported detonation method were described as triggered by a timer mechanism in 2014.

[vi] “Bomb kills 9 at Peshawar preaching centre,” The Nation (Pakistan), 17 January 2014, (accessed 29 May 2015).

[vii] Twelve percent of IED attacks with a reported mode of detonation in 2014 were triggered by victim-activation.

[viii] Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their destruction, 18 September 1997, (accessed 21 May 2015).

[ix] Hashmat Baktash, “Afghanistan bombing kills coalition soldier,” Los Angeles Times, 20 January 2014, (accessed 21 May 2015).

[x] Dennis Lynch, “Philippines Bus Bombing: Islamic State-Tied Militants Deny Responsibility, Could Be Work Of Extortionists,” International Business Times, 10 December 2014, (accessed 29 May 2015).

[xi] UN News Centre, “Afghanistan: UN strongly condemns suicide bombing at volleyball match,” 24 November 2014, (accessed 21 May 2015).

[xii] Aliza Kassim, “Suicide bomber kills dozens at Pakistan border parade, police say,” CNN, 3 November 2014, (accessed 21 May 2015).

[xiii] “Wagah carnage updates: Sombre ceremony concludes at Wagah Border,” The Express Tribune, 3 November 2014, (accessed 21 May 2015).

[xiv] “Separate bomb attacks claim 22 lives in Iraqi capital,” Press TV, 27 May 2014,–in-baghdad/ (accessed 21 May 2015).

[xv] According to their data, 2,236 people were killed by suicide attacks in Africa in 2014, up from 843 in 2013. There had been no suicide bombings in Africa before 1995, and there were only three such attacks in the whole of the 1990s. For more information see Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism, “Suicide Attack Database,” (accessed 21 May 2015).