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Explosive States- Monitoring explosive violence in 2014: Overview

2014 Overview

  • AOAV recorded 41,847 casualties (people who were killed or injured) by explosive weapons in 2,702 incidents in 2014.
  • Of the casualties recorded in 2014, 78% were civilians (32,662 civilians killed and injured).
  • This meant there was a 5% increase in civilian casualties from explosive violence in 2013 (up from 31,076 in 2013).

The casualties

In 2014 AOAV recorded an increase in civilian casualties (people killed and physically injured) from explosive violence for the third consecutive year. In the last twelve months AOAV has recorded 32,662 civilian deaths and injuries from the use of explosive weapons around the world. This is an increase of 5% from 2013.

Yet again, civilians made up the majority of casualties from explosive weapon use. Civilians accounted for 78% of all recorded deaths and injuries in 2014.

This is in spite of a sharp increase in reported armed actor casualties in 2014. AOAV recorded a total of 41,847 deaths and injuries from explosive violence, an 11% increase in total casualties from 2013. Deaths and injuries to armed actors rose by a third from 2013.[i]

As in previous years, civilians were most at risk when explosive weapons were used in populated areas.[ii] As in 2013, two-thirds of all the incidents that AOAV recorded in 2014 were reported in populated areas (1,776 or 66%). In those attacks, the proportion of casualties who were civilians reached 92%. This is compared to 34% in other areas.

This pattern of harm is consistent with the trends identified in previous years.[iii] Civilians are put at grave risk of death and injury when explosive weapons are used in populated areas.

As shown in Figure 1, the reported civilian casualties of explosive weapon use consistently and substantially outnumbered armed actors in 2014.

On average, AOAV recorded 2,721 civilian casualties a month, compared to an average of 765 armed actors. Per day, there were an average of 90 civilian casualties, against 25 armed actors.

Twenty-nine civilians died on average every day from explosive weapon use in 2014.[iv]

Figure 1 shows a significant spike in civilian casualties in July 2014. AOAV recorded more than 5,000 civilian casualties and more than 500 incidents that month for the first time since AOAV began recording the impacts of explosive violence in 2011.

The huge civilian toll in July reflects two new fronts of explosive violence that emerged in 2014. On 7 July the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, following months of escalating tensions. Half of the global civilian impact of explosive violence in July was recorded in Gaza (52%). The full impact of explosive weapon use in this operation is discussed in further detail overleaf.

Fighting in eastern Ukraine also dramatically worsened in the summer of 2014, and on 17 July the Malaysian Airline Flight 17 (MH17) was shot down by a surface-to-air missile, killing all 298 passengers and crew on board. This attack was the single deadliest incident of explosive violence recorded by AOAV in 2014.[v]

A Global Problem

For the third year running, AOAV recorded a casualty from an explosive weapon attack in 58 different countries and territories (see map on page 13).[vi] Casualties from explosive weapons were reported in 15 countries and territories in 2014 that had not been impacted in the previous year, most notably Ukraine.[vii]

As Figure 2 shows, the two countries with the most civilian casualties in 2014 were again Iraq and Syria.[viii]

In Iraq AOAV recorded more than 10,000 civilian deaths and injuries from explosive weapons for the second consecutive year. There was a 16% decrease in the number of civilian casualties that AOAV were able to record in Iraq. This does not mean that Iraq became a less violent place in 2014, on the contrary, security conditions collapsed in several areas of the country.[ix]

In 2013 AOAV had recorded a dramatic increase in the use of IEDs in populated areas in Iraq. The full severity of this pattern of violence was not fully replicated in 2014, but the rise of Islamic State (referred to throughout in this report as ISIS), the Iraqi government’s military response, and the intervention of international coalition forces have all contributed to Iraq remaining the worst country in the world for explosive violence (see Iraq graphic on page 16).

The civil war in Syria is now in its fifth year. As in recent years, the intensity of the explosive violence in some conflict conditions presents serious challenges to AOAV’s incident-based methodology, and the impact of explosive weapons on the ground in Syria in 2014 could not be fully represented in this dataset.[x] Despite this, AOAV recorded 6,247 civilian casualties from explosive violence in Syria. As well as the ongoing ferocious conflict between the Syrian state and multiple rebel groups, as in Iraq new and additional threats to civilians in Syria from explosive weapons emerged in 2014.

Figure 2 shows the fifteen countries with the most-reported civilian casualties. Seven countries and territories saw more than 1,000 civilian casualties in 2014. In 2013, there were five such locations.[xi]

The table shows massive increases in explosive violence in several countries, specifically Gaza and Ukraine and Nigeria. These three new hotspots of explosive violence are discussed in more detail overleaf.

Several countries dropped from the list of most-affected countries in 2014. The USA, Russia and Turkey all saw dramatic declines in explosive violence. All three countries had previously suffered big IED attacks in 2013, in Boston, Volgograd and Reyhanli respectively, which accounted for the previous prominence of these countries.[xii]

Figure 2: Most affected countries and territories in 2014 


Civilian casualtiesAll casualtiesNumber of recorded IncidentsAverage civilian casualties per incidentPercentage of casualties who were civilians2013





Hotspots: 2014’s biggest escalations


AOAV recorded 3,813 civilian death and injuries from explosive weapons in Gaza in 2014. Almost all of these (98%) occurred between 7 July and 26 August, in what has been termed ‘Operation Protective Edge’. The United Nations documented 2,131 total deaths in Gaza, of whom 1,473 were civilians (69%).[xiii]

The majority of casualties in Gaza will likely have been the result of heavy explosive weapon use. Although AOAV’s incident-based methodology restricts the ability to reflect the full scale of impacts of explosive weapons in Gaza in 2014, AOAV recorded 1,091 civilian deaths in the operation, as well as 2,669 civilian injuries.

“The United States is appalled by today’s disgraceful shelling outside an UNRWA school in Rafah sheltering some 3,000 displaced persons, in which at least ten more Palestinian civilians were tragically killed […] We once again stress that Israel must do more to meet its own standards and avoid civilian casualties.”
U.S. Department of State, 3 August 2014[xiv]

The majority of civilian casualties from explosive violence in Gaza in 2014 (53%) were caused by the use of aerial weapons, like air-dropped bombs or missiles. The remaining 47% were caused either by ground and naval shelling, or by attacks that involved a combination of launch methods.

In the last decade there have periodically been severe outbreaks of explosive violence in hostilities between Israel and Gaza-based militants. The previous outbreak, known as Operation Pillar of Defense, took place in November 2012. AOAV recorded 641civilian casualties in 2012’s fighting, which means there was almost six times as many civilian casualties were recorded in Gaza in 2014.

Israel also saw a dramatic increase in civilian casualties of explosive violence in 2014, as militants launched rockets and mortars from Gaza. AOAV recorded 133 civilian casualties in Israel during 2014, up from 14 the previous year. Mortar and rocket fire caused 87% of these (six civilian deaths and 113 injuries).


Conflict in eastern Ukraine in 2014 saw the use of heavy explosive weapons in Europe for the first time since AOAV began recording explosive violence in 2011.[xv]

On 2 May 2014 two Ukrainian airmen were killed in a missile attack over the city of Sloviansk.[xvi] This attack heralded a new escalation in the crisis of sovereignty in eastern Ukraine.

The use of heavy explosive weapons like large-calibre artillery and multiple rocket launchers in populated areas meant that Ukraine was the seventh most-affected country in 2014.

Much of the bombing and shelling by both sides took place in populated areas (77% of incidents). The city of Donetsk was the focus of the most intense shelling, and 38% of attacks in Ukraine were reported in the city.

Responsibility for many of the attacks was disputed and shrouded in uncertainty, but Ukrainian armed forces were reported to have caused 31% of civilian casualties of explosive violence in 2014, and separatist rebel fighters 24%.[xvii]

The use of explosive weapons with a wide-area effect in eastern Ukraine included the use of banned cluster munitions.[xviii]

Ceasefire attempts negotiated in September explicitly referenced heavy weapons in populated areas, in recognition of the severe harm seen in the summer months of fighting in eastern Ukraine. The ‘Minsk Agreement’ required all weapons with a bigger than 100mm calibre (which includes large mortars, rockets and artillery systems) to be pulled back from residential areas to a distance of their maximum range of fire.[xix]

“Nina, my godmother, was blown into pieces right in front of the apartment. They were only able to identify her by her dressing gown.”
Yevgeny Isayev, Donetsk resident, 8 August 2014[xx]


AOAV recorded 2,407 civilian casualties in Nigeria in 2014, as militant group Boko Haram carried out a series of incredibly deadly attacks. This is a huge increase from the 140 that were recorded in 2013.

Almost all the casualties in Nigeria were a result of IED use (97%). A third of the casualties were caused by suicide bombings, which hit markets, bus stops and places of worship across the country.

Some of the most destructive attacks seen in 2014 occurred in Nigeria. There was an average of 49 civilian casualties per attack, twice as many as the next country on the list (South Sudan, with 20). The incident in 2014 in which AOAV recorded the most civilian casualties took place in the city of Kano on 28 November. Multiple explosions targeted the city’s central mosque, killing and injuring at least 390 people.[xxi]

Explosive violence has become a growing threat to civilians in Nigeria as the militant group Boko Haram has increasingly used IEDs to cause death and destruction, primarily in the north of the country. Nigeria had previously suffered a spate of large IED attacks in 2012, killing and injuring more than 1,000 civilians. The severity of the bombings in 2014 however exceeded previously seen levels in the country, and the pattern of devastating suicide attacks in populated areas has continued into early 2015.

Who is behind the bombings?


Who is behind the bombings?

As in previous years, many of the explosive violence incidents recorded by AOAV in 2014 went unclaimed and could not be attributed to a specific actor. In 48% of incidents it was unclear from reporting who was responsible.

However, state forces have caused far more civilian casualties through their use of explosive weapons in 2014 than in previous years.[xxii] Civilian casualties reportedly caused by states almost tripled in 2014. AOAV recorded 9,128 civilian casualties caused by state actors in 2014. This number stood at 3,410 in 2013.

State forces had previously been responsible for 11% of civilian casualties in 2013. As Figure 3 shows, that proportion now stands at 28%. This increase is driven primarily by newly-recorded state use in Gaza, Ukraine and Iraq.

More state forces reportedly used explosive weapons in 2014 than in previous years. Twenty-two different state forces used explosive weapons in 2014.[xxiii] This is in addition to three distinct coalitions (NATO ISAF in Afghanistan, AMISOM in Somalia, and the multilateral intervention in Iraq and Syria dubbed ‘Operation Inherent Resolve’.)[xxiv] Twenty-one states were active in 2013 and 19 in 2012.

State use of explosive weapons caused 13,259 casualties in 2014, of whom 69% (9,128) were reported to be civilians. The most prolific state users of explosive weapons are listed in Figure 4. It should be noted that the impacts of the international coalition aerial bombing campaign in Syria and Iraq were very poorly reported in 2014. This is explored further on page 24.

Figure 4: Biggest state users of explosive weapons in 2014
1Israel44% of incidents


The IDF’s operation in Gaza meant that Israel was the individual state actor that caused the most reported civilian casualties in 2014 (3,756 civilian casualties, 41%).

Collectively, non-state actors caused 9,223 casualties in 2014, of whom 80% were civilians (7,338). As in previous years, the majority of incidents in which the perpetrator was unknown involved the use of IEDs (68%), which makes it probable that non-state actors caused more incidents of explosive violence than can be attributed.

AOAV recorded 51 different named non-state actors using explosive weapons in 21 countries.[xxv] The most prolific non-state actors in 2014 are listed in Figure 5. For the second year running, the three non-state groups who were most active were the multiple rebel forces active in Syria, Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Figure 5: Biggest non-state users of explosive weapons in 2014
1Syrian rebels18% of incidents
4Hamas-linked militants10%
5Separatist rebels (Ukraine)4%
6Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan4%


[i] AOAV recorded 9,185 armed actor deaths and injuries in 2014, up from 6,733 in 2013.

[ii] A populated area is one that is likely to contain concentrations of civilians. It is based on Protocol III of the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). The full definition and guidelines for recording an area as being populated is detailed on pages [METHODOLOGY SECTION]

[iii] Between 2011-2013, civilians made up 90% of the casualties from explosive weapon use in populated areas, compared to 34% in other areas. More information can be found at “The Impact of Explosive Weapons: three years of data, 2011-2013,” Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), 1 December 2014, (accessed on 30 April 2015).

[iv] In 2011 AOAV recorded an average of 16 civilian deaths per day; an average of 22 in 2012, and 25 in 2013.

[v] Dylan Stableford, “Malaysia Airlines plane carrying 298 people shot down in missile strike near Ukraine-Russia border: U.S. official,” Yahoo News, 17 July 2014, (accessed 28 May 2015).

[vi] These only include casualties from an explosive weapon at its time of use. AOAV also recorded impacts of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and abandoned ordnance (AXO), and from unattended or mismanaged stockpiles. These casualties are excluded from the primary analysis in this report, but are documented on [Methodology page].

[vii] In alphabetical order these were; Austria, Azerbaijan, Central African Republic, Czech Republic, Djibouti, Germany, Guinea-Bissau, Kazakhstan, Madagascar, Macedonia, Malta, Sweden, Ukraine, West Bank, Western Sahara.

[viii] In 2013 and 2012 these were also the two countries that had the most reported civilian casualties. To access the reports from these years go to

[ix] AOAV’s data reflects the changing nature of violence in Iraq in 2014, and the increasing prominence of alternative weapon types. Iraq Body Count (IBC) documented 17,049 violent civilian deaths in Iraq in 2014, roughly double the number of deaths the recorded in 2013. IBC data does not fully disaggregate deaths by weapon type. Iraq Body Count, “Iraq 2014: Civilian deaths almost doubling year on year,” 1 January 2015, (accessed 28 May 2015).

[x] The Violations Documentation Center (VDC) is a Syrian casualty-recording organisation which disaggregates fatalities in the Syrian conflict by cause and weapon type. In 2014, the VDC recorded 17,379 total civilian deaths in Syria (a 34% decrease from 2013, when 26,269 total civilian deaths were recorded by VDC). AOAV analysis in April 2015 revealed that 11,651 of these (64%) were caused by explosive weapons.  The Violations Documentation Center (VDC), All data accurate as of 28 April 2015.

[xi] Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Lebanon.

[xii] The USA saw a 98% decline in civilian casualties of explosive violence, Russia an 88% fall, and Turkey a decline of 95%. These were the three biggest declines recorded by AOAV in 2014. To read more about the impact and response to the Boston Bombing, in which three civilians died and 264 injured at the 2013 Boston Marathon, see Jane Hunter, “Blood on the Streets of Boston: Reviewing the response to the April 2013 Marathon bombings,” Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), December 2014,

[xiii] UNOCHA, “Occupied Palestinian Territory: Gaza Emergency Situation Report (as of 4 September 2014, 08:00 hrs),” (accessed on 30 April 2015).

[xiv] U.S. Department of State, “UNWRA School Shelling, Press Statement,” 3 August 2014, (accessed 9 June 2015).

[xv] Explosive violence casualties were recorded in Ukraine in 2012, when 29 civilian injuries were reported in four incidents, most occurring in a sequence of IED attacks in the town of Dnipopetrovsk on 27 April 2012.

[xvi] Jacob Parakilas and Robert Perkins, “Ukraine crisis: AOAV warns against further use of explosive weapons,” Action on Armed Violence, 2 May 2014, (accessed 30 April 2015).

[xvii] In the remainder of incidents it was unclear who was responsible from the reporting. While there is documented evidence of Russian state forces firing artillery and other explosive weapons into Ukraine, AOAV were not able to identify any incidents or casualties from any use of explosive weapons. Igor Sutyagin, “Russian Forces in Ukraine,” Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), March 2015, (accessed 28 May 2015).

[xviii] Ukraine has denied the use of these weapons by its state forces. As of 1 May 2015 at least 52 states had condemned the use of cluster munitions in Ukraine, see Cluster Munition Coalition, “Use of cluster bombs,” (accessed 1 May 2015).

[xix] “English-language translation of the Sept. 19 cease-fire memorandum in Minsk,” Kyiv Post, 22 September 2014, (accessed 1 May 2014). The ceasefire helped to reduce the casualty toll in the final months of 2014, before another escalation of explosive violence in early 2015. Only 24% of civilian casualties of explosive weapon use in Ukraine were recorded after the agreement of the Minsk Protocol in September.

[xx] “Three civilians killed and 10 injured in overnight shelling of Donetsk,” The Associated Press, posted by The Guardian, 8 August 2014, (accessed 8 June 2015).

[xxi] Ibrahim Garba, “Death Toll In Nigeria Mosque Bombing,” The Associated Press, posted by The Huffington Post, 29 November 2014, (accessed 28 May 2015).

[xxii] For the sake of framing a debate, AOAV defines a state as full member states of the United Nations.

[xxiii] In alphabetical order, these states were; Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Burma, Colombia, Egypt, France, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Kenya, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Sudan, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, USA and Yemen.

[xxiv] U.S. Department of Defense, “Operation Inherent Resolve,”  (accessed 1 May 2015).

[xxv] Non-state actors named as causing casualties with explosive weapons included; Afghanistan (Hizb-i-Islami, the Taliban), Bangladesh (Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh), Central African Republic (anti-Balaka, Seleka), China (Turkistan Islamic Party), Colombia (FARC), Egypt (Ajnad Masr, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, Muslim Brotherhood), Gaza (Hamas-linked militants), India (Garo National Liberation Army, NDFB(S), People’s Liberation Front of India, ULFA, UNLF) Iraq (ISIS, Mosul Brigades), Israel (Hezbollah, Hamas-linked militants), Kenya (Al Shabaab), Lebanon (Abdullah Azzam Brigades, Al-Nusra Front, ISIS, Liwa Ahrar al-Sunna), Libya (Ansar al-Sharia, Forces affiliated with renegade General Haftar (Operation Dignity), Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn), Misrata and Zintan militia groups), Nigeria (Boko Haram), Pakistan (Ahrarul Hind, Ansar-ul Mujahedin, Baloch Liberation Tigers, Jaish al Islam, Jamaatul Ahrar, Lashkar-I-Jhangvi, Mast Gul, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, United Baloch Army), Philippines (Abu Sayyaf, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Moro rebels, NPA), Somalia (Al-Shabaab), Sudan (SPLA-N), Syria (Ajnad al-Sham, Al-Nusra Front, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Arab Tawhid Party, ISIS, Islamic Front, Jund al-Aqsa, Kurdish fighters, Syrian rebels), Ukraine (Luhansk People’s Republic, Separatist rebels), Yemen (Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula, Houthi Shiite separatists). In addition there were multiple incidents in 2014 that were caused by unknown ‘militants’, rebels, or unaffiliated individuals.