This is a section of the report Tracking IED Harm. To read the full report, please click here. The case study into the IED harm caused in Afghanistan can be found here. From this research AOAV generated recommendations and conclusions based on the data found – these can be read here. The research was undertaken in response to the harm that the IED can cause and the relatively low awareness of IEDs in comparison to other weapons – for more on this see here.
The use of improvised explosive devices (IED) has grown at an alarming rate over the last decade. From 2011-2013 AOAV recorded a 70% global rise in the number of civilians killed or maimed by such terrible things as roadside bombs and suicide attacks. The vast majority of the casualties of IED attacks are civilians, particularly when these weapons are used in populated areas. In 2013, 62% of all IED attacks occurred in populated areas, where 91% of the casualties were civilians.
In just three years AOAV recorded an IED attack in 66 countries and territories. While the use of these weapons is a global problem, they are particularly harmful in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where they cause death and destruction on a daily basis.
The use of IEDs has a certain predictable impact on civilians: these weapons devastate families and communities, cause life-changing injuries and create an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty.
Despite this, there is still relatively little data available on the use and impact of IEDs. And yet it is crucial that such data is collected. Not only to help us understand the impact of these weapons, but also to show us how this impact may change depending on the circumstances in which they are used.
Without data it is virtually impossible to quantify and address the harm caused by IEDs. Without data we are unable to fully realise the needs of victims of IEDs. It was recognised at a Chatham House expert roundtable in September 2014 that more needed to be done on the collection and dissemination of data.
This report aims to highlight what is, and what is not, being done in terms of IED data.
The report is divided into two sections.
In the first, Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) shows who is currently collecting data on the impact of IEDs; explores the limitations and gaps in the current data; and highlights examples of what we believe is good practice in IED data collation.
This is not a comprehensive survey. Rather, the aim of this report is to include all major data collection efforts and focus on those that are freely available. It only considers those organisations currently collecting data, so bodies such as the RAND Database of Worldwide Terrorism Incidents and International Terrorism: Attributes of Terrorist Events dataset (ITERATE) are not specifically noted in this report.
Finally, this report investigates a specific example, looking at the data collection efforts in a country plagued by IEDs: Afghanistan.
Our ultimate goal is to show how understanding the scale of the rising problem of IEDs in the world is one vital step towards reducing the harm that they cause, one that cannot continue to be overlooked.
IEDs and data collection
Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have been used for hundreds of years. However, their threat has grown exponentially in the 21st century, as methods and means of warfare have adapted to modern threats such as insurgencies and terrorism. Warfare today rarely means the armies of two or more countries fighting according to the traditional laws of armed conflict. It has grown to involve rebel forces, armed groups, and terrorists, with the majority of armed conflicts now being fought within countries’ borders.
The modern rise of IEDs reflects this shift in warfare. In many countries armed groups have ready access to the materials required to manufacture IEDs which can be put to deadly use anywhere in the world. For example, in Iraq stockpiles of munitions not secured in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion left non-state armed groups with a massive supply of explosives and other materials from which they created IEDs.
The use of IEDs also hugely and disproportionately affect civilians, especially when they are used in populated areas. According to AOAV data, 91% of casualties from IEDs in such areas in 2013 were civilians. In common with all explosive weapons, IEDs affect an area with blast, heat and fragmentation. Their deadly effects kill and maim both civilians and non-civilians alike, without distinction. The use of large car bombs or victim-operated pressure plate IEDs, in a market, crowded street, or residential neighbourhood puts civilians at grave risk of grievous harm.
While a certain amount of information about IEDs is known, more data is required to fully understand their impact globally.
We know that the use of IEDs causes death and destruction, but the exact scale of this devastation is unknown. We know of some particularly harmful tactics used by armed groups, such as detonating a second IED a short time after an initial attack in order to kill and maim those helping the initial victims, but we do not know where these tactics are most prevalent. We do not fully know how insurgents and armed actors gain access to the materials required to make IEDs. We do not know the full impact that IEDs have on the delivery of humanitarian assistance and aid.
And we do not know, for instance, what their use does to a community and its own sense of fear; why, for instance, people continue to visit a coffee shop struck by two IED attacks in so many months, or how many school journeys are fraught with fear, or families whose livelihoods are destroyed in a blast of blood and shrapnel.
Crucially, for the purposes of this report, it is not fully understood who is doing what when it comes to the collection of data on the use of IED attacks.
Why is IED data collected?
The current data being collated on IEDs arises from a number of different ambitions.
Commercial companies, who sell their data to clients, generally do so for risk analysis, in order to demonstrate the security of a country or region. The recording of IED attacks plays an important role in providing this information. However the profit motive equates to a lack of general transparency, and it was difficult for AOAV – and others – to access such data without incurring high costs.
One industry that demands detailed knowledge of IED incidents is the insurance industry. Some insurance companies have very complex software in order to calculate the risks of terror ist incidents, including IED attacks. Others use third party companies to provide the information. Roger Davies, a leading international specialist in the area of countering IEDs with 27 years of experience in the military, as a businessman and as a strategic adviser and a member of AOAV’s board, told AOAV that a single insurance company can insure 100 million buildings globally against terrorist damage. A company insuring such a vast number of buildings requires data on the use of IEDs in order to fully assess costs. The data required ordinarily includes: what a typical IED is; what range of IEDs are seen; where they are used; why they are used; and how much damage can be caused by an IED.
Then there are security companies and States, as well as organisations, who record data on IEDs in order to develop counter-IED technology to protect people who might be exposed to their effects. The nature of IEDs means that they are very hard to prevent and counter. As much information as is possible to collect about these weapons is needed in order to try to limit their impact on civilians and armed actors.
There are also those organisations that collect data on the use of IEDs in order to determine the humanitarian impact of these weapons. These organisations, both on the ground and through desk-based surveys, record information on IED attacks in order to demonstrate their full impact on armed actors and civilians. These groups are the most accessible and, from AOAV’s perspective, the most utilitarian of all IED data collecting organisations. In this way they are the focus of this report.
Each of these organisations records data for different reasons, but many do so in order to fully understand and respond to the humanitarian impact of IEDs. From their impact on aid workers to their affect on civilian populations, the availability of data is crucial.
AOAV considered 50 organisations, fully analysing 18 of the most relevant in this report.
As will be seen, some common limitations are evident in the collection of data on the use of IEDs. In many cases data collection efforts are fledging, and very little comprehensive and clear data exists. While this is undeniably due in part to the inherent difficulty of finding information on IED use and recording it in a detailed manner, some common problems are evident.
The first of these limitations is the problem of terminology. Many organisations only record an attack if it meets their definition of a ‘terrorist incident.’ This inevitably necessitates a political framing of an incident which is not always useful, the main problem of which surrounds the definition of ‘terrorism.’ There is no one universally-agreed upon definition and so those organisations collecting data on terrorist incidents all have a slightly different definition of what terrorism actually is.
For example, the Global Terrorism Database defines terrorism as “the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation.” This is narrower and more strictly defined than others. The Terrorism in Western Europe: Events Data (TWEED), for example, see terrorism as “theoretically a form of violence that uses targets of violence in an indirect way in order to influence third parties.”
These varied definitions not only have the potential to limit the number of incidents which are actually recorded, but they also make it impossible to use their datasets in any sort of comparative way.
Some databases, such as TWEED, only include in their definition of terrorism ‘international’ events. This means that domestic incidents, in which those killed or injured are nationals of the country in which the attack took place, are not included. For instance, two domestic Russian passenger aircraft were brought down by two female suicide bombers on 24 August 2004 in almost identical attacks. According to Roger Davies, since only one of the incidents killed non-Russians, only one of them was included as an ‘international’ terrorist incident for data purposes. Even though the attacks were essentially identical in motive and method, the second incident was not included, highlighting the difficulties caused by a limiting definition or methodology.
The databases recording terrorist incidents often fall foul of a wider problem regarding data on IED incidents: the categorisation of each incident as being caused by an IED specifically.
Organisations such as the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) do not disaggregate their data by weapon type. This means that a manual search is required to deter- mine whether an incident was an IED attack or not. In databases with thousands of records, this would be hugely time-consuming and fraught with the potential for inaccuracies.
Very few casualty counting organisations coding data by weapon type include a data field that specifies whether an incident was an IED attack or not, or whether the deaths and injuries were caused by an IED specifically, rather than a manufactured explosive weapon like an aircraft bomb or tank shell. Since a bomb can be either manufactured or improvised, the categorisation of an incident as merely a bomb provides very limited information. To give a few examples, the Global Terrorism Database includes IEDs in the field of “explosives / bombs / dynamite”; the World Terror Watch does not distinguish between “bomb” and IED attack; and Iraq Body Count does not use common terms to record the weapon used in the incidents it codes, leading to hundreds of descriptions, many of which could apply to IED attacks. This makes any analysis of IED incidents extremely difficult. The confusion in defining IEDs is not something that simply affects organisations collecting data, it is also matched by a disparity in definitions at the policy level. This has obstructed the collective ability to tackle the problem of IED use.
Any mechanisms for collecting data on IED use should ensure, AOAV believes, that incidents are coded in such a way as to make it clear when they are caused by IED attacks as opposed to more general terms such as ‘bomb’ or ‘explosive’ which could incorporate commercial ordnance used by state forces.
A common limitation which has been observed during the course of this research is that of language. Many organisations, including AOAV, use open source material such as media reports in order to collect data on casualties and IED incidents. Many of these media reports are English-language. It is recognised that English- language reports will not capture all global incidents, and that even in a conflict or armed violence situation which is ‘high profile,’ a number of incidents will inevitably be missed and consequently not included in such databases.
Large incidents, and those which are particularly newsworthy, will often be captured by English- language news reports, but smaller incidents resulting in low numbers of casualties may easily fail to be reported internationally. This means that, while databases can be used to analyse trends over time, they are not always reliable in terms of absolute numbers.
Few organisations record comprehensive global data on the use of IEDs, many having a more narrow geographic focus. As mentioned, some organisations collect global data on terrorist incidents, but there are clear limitations to this data. Some organisations, such as the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) and the European Bomb Data System (EBDS) only collect data for incidents occurring in a specific region, for instance.
Regarding IEDs specifically, the extent and quality of the data varies from region to region, and between countries. There is some significant data available on countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, which are plagued by violence, due to organisations focusing on these countries. Bodies such as the Iraq Body Count (IBC), the Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria (VDC Syria), and the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), all document incidents in their respective countries. The breadth and detail of this data is not, however, repeated in countries without a specific data collection body. Again this prevents comparative analysis.
Very few organisations exist which comprehensively record IED incidents and their impact upon civilians. This section will consider the principal data collection bodies and organisations that do this. It is not intended to be a comprehensive list, but an overview of key bodies currently collecting data, or have collected data in the very recent past.
Action on Armed Violence
Deaths and injuries caused by explosive weapon use globally.
AOAV began recording those killed and injured by explosive weapons globally in October 2010. UN and government leaders have repeatedly cited the data in order to demonstrate the harm caused by explosive weapons. The database records the number of civilians and armed actors killed and injured in each explosive weapon incident across the world. The type of weapon in each incident is recorded, as is, amongst other things, the location of the incident, whether any women or children were killed or injured, and whether the attack was a suicide attack. As with many datasets in this list, AOAV does not focus solely on IED use. In this instance, the focus is on documenting the harm caused by a wider group of explosive weapons, which also would include the likes of rockets, missiles and other manufactured bombs. In incidents of IED use, the database includes a field allowing an incident to be coded either as a “roadside bomb,” “car bomb,” or more generally as a “non-specific IED” if the weapon in question falls outside of either narrow category. AOAV only records events that have resulted in a death or injury of at least one person, and does not document failed or threatened IED attacks.
AOAV produces an annual Explosive Violence Monitoring Report detailing the impact of explosive weapons on civilians globally. This report provides total figures for recorded civilian deaths per year, and additionally includes an analysis of casualties from specific weapon types, including IEDs. Annual figures of civilian casualties are provided, as are details of those countries which were most impacted. Monthly updates are published throughout the year.
AOAV has a detailed and publicly-available methodology. AOAV gathers information from English-language news sources on incidents of explosive violence with at least one reported casualty. AOAV uses an RSS reader to scan Google news for key terms which relate to explosive weapon use. The data is manually recorded and analysed.
The AOAV data is not available to the public to download, although it is provided to those who request it and have a genuine research interest in the data.
AOAV acknowledges the limitations in their methodology regarding using only English-language news sources: “AOAV does not attempt to comprehensively capture all incidents of explosive violence around the world, instead this data is intended to serve as a useful indicator of the scale and pattern of violence.”
International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR)
Current and emerging terrorist threats, focusing on the Asia-Pacific region.
The ICPVTR has a Terrorism Database called the Global Pathfinder, a “one-stop repository for information on the current and emerging terrorist threat.” The database contains profiles of terrorist groups, terrorist and counter-terrorist incidents, as well as things like terrorist training camps.
Its purpose is to assist policy-makers, practitioners, private businesses, as well as academic and research institutes dealing with terrorism. A representative from the Center told AOAV that: “the analyses and data will allow you to stay ahead of and respond to the threat of political violence and terrorism.”
A representative from the ICPVTR told AOAV that principally the data was drawn from open sources.
The database is available only through subscription. The subscription fee is US$6,000 per subscription cycle of 6 months. A free trial is not available, so AOAV could not assess the data itself.
International Institute for Counter-Terrorism
Global terrorist attacks, terrorist organisations and activists in addition to statistical reports.
The ICT was founded in 1996. Its ‘Incidents and Activists Database’ is a comprehensive survey of open sources of intelligence, and is “one of the most all-encompassing non-governmental resources on terrorist incidents in the world.” The database has recorded over 33,000 terrorist incidents since 1975, including information on successful terrorist attacks, foiled attacks, and counter-terror operations. It also includes back- ground and follow-up information.
A monthly report is published, providing a summary and analysis of terrorist attacks and counter-terrorism operations, and an annual report is released.
Relevant to this report, the ICT includes information on suicide attacks and bombings, including IED attacks. The aim of the report, as stated by the ICT, is to identify patterns and trends of world- wide terrorist activity, which includes the scale and impact of IEDs. The report includes details of casualty figures, perpetrators, targets, organisations associated with each attack, sources of funding, and weapons used.
ICT’s global framing is broken down into regions and countries, and focuses on the most significant incidents. The ICT is an academic institute and relies solely on private donations and revenue from events, projects and programs.
The ICT reports do not mention a particular methodology, except for stating that they use open sources. In the reports themselves, incidents are referenced to news reports, but without hyper- links. For example, an incident may be coded as: “BBC, “British pair who travelled to Syria admit terror charges”, July 8, 2014”.
The data is reported in annual and monthly pdf reports, and no public database is available. This means that the data is not particularly searchable. While the reports include information regarding weapon types used in each attack, there is no way to search for results involving IEDs. Manually reviewing each incident would be required.
The reports only record those incidents defined as ‘terrorist.’ This excludes those attacks deemed not to fall under the definition of terrorism.
The ICT itself acknowledges that it is an incomplete database, stating in its 2013 report that “it should be noted that…the ICT database team tends to cover only significant attacks in ‘hotspot areas’, such as Iraq and Syria, and major incidents with high casualty figures.”
Global Terrorism Database (GTD)
Data on global domestic and international terrorist incidents from 1970 to 2013, with annual reports planned for the future.
The GTD was established in 2001, when the University of Maryland obtained a database of terrorist incidents between 1970 and 1997 from the Pinkerton Global Intelligence Services (PGIS). The PGIS database identified terrorism incidents from wire services, government reports, and major international newspapers. Its purpose was to assess the risk of terrorism for its clients.
Initially, those at the University of Maryland digitalised the existing data, but in 2006 they were given funding from the Human Factors Division of the Department of Homeland Security to extend the GTD beyond 1997. It is currently maintained by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland. The data is used by other organisations, such as the Institute for Economics and Peace, and provides the data background for reports such as the Global Terrorism Index.
The data is available online and to download. It is searchable in a number of fields including date, country, attack type, target type, weapon type, casualties, fatalities, and injuries. Regarding weapon type, fields include biological, chemical, firearms, and explosives / bombs / dynamite. IEDs are included in the explosives / bombs / dynamite field, but are not specifically coded on the data- base, however incidents can be searched in a separate field for detonation method like ‘pressure trigger’ and ‘remote trigger.’
On the website ‘IED’ can be searched, returning over 920 incidents. The entire database contains over 125,000 incidents.
Open sources are used to compile the database, including those found through Lexis-Nexis and Opensource.gov. GTD claims that 25 to 35 data collectors, who are fluent in six languages, typically find 10,000 potential incidents each day. Relevant incidents are then included in the database.
The major problem with the GTD is that it has used four different methodologies for data collection. Only in 2011 did the University of Maryland itself begin collecting the data, at which point it changed its methodology and standards. This means that the data is inappropriate for the analysis of terrorist trends, including IED incidents, over time. The GTD does state as much, but the data continues to be used by organisations and academics to analyse terrorism trends. GTD data is used widely by the media and by policymakers, and it has been argued that the use of this data may “become the basis for policy decisions,” even though it is flawed.
Regarding IEDs, as the database does not code IEDs as a separate weapon type, it is difficult to use the data to consider any trends in IED use. The database also only includes those incidents which meet its definition of terrorism, meaning it has limited utility for global analysis.
European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center (ESISC), World Terror Watch (WTW)
Alerts and analysis of the threats posed globally by international organised violence, whether linked to terrorism, organized crime, maritime piracy, social unrest or insurgencies.
The World Terror Watch is a paid subscription service which produces customised reports, analysis, and daily, weekly, or monthly briefings responding to the needs of each client.
Subscribing to the full WTW gives clients access to:
- Real time email alerts. Between 5 December 2014 and 21 December 2014, AOAV received over 640 e-mail alerts.
- Access to an online database containing thou- sands of incident reports, including details of those killed and injured in each incident
- Situational briefings delivered by email analysing the most important security-related events of the week
- A Q&A service that provides answers to specific questions in 12 to 24 hours.
They offer a 15 day free trial subscription, which gives access to the database. The database can be searched for the following fields: date; keywords; country; modus operandi; nature; perpetrator; and incident type. The results are mapped and colour coded by incident. Incidents can be categorised as: an ambush; arrests; bomb or grenade; military action; riots and civil unrest; statement; other.
Each incident can be expanded, with a significant amount of data available for each, including the number of those who were killed or wounded.
WTW told AOAV that they have a multilingual team of analysts who search for information on hundreds of websites and social media. This information is then verified and entered into the database. The WTW currently has the following language capabilities: English, French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, Russian, Azeri and Turkish.
The database cannot be downloaded, and in filtering the data on the website they make no distinction between ‘bomb’ and ‘IED’. The database can be searched for ‘IED’ and if the description contains the word IED then the result will be shown.
There is a high cost to this database that is a significant barrier to its public utility. The cost varies from EURO 360 per year for access to information on one region of the world for one user, accessing only the database or receiving a weekly briefing, to EURO 30,000 for access to global data, a subscription to email alerts, weekly briefings, unlimited users, and unlimited Q&As per month.
Insecurity Insights, Security in Numbers Database (SIND)
Incidents which impact upon the delivery of aid globally.
Insecurity Insights, based in Geneva, was established by Nathan Taback, Christina Wille and Robin Coupland in 2008. The overall mission of Insecurity Insights is to generate data on the impact of armed violence and insecurity with an aim of developing
a model which enables the predication of violence, and policies to prevent this. This would include, but is not limited, to the impact of IEDs.
Insecurity Insights runs the Security in Numbers Database. This database records incidents which affect aid workers and the delivery of aid. Wille told AOAV that an incident does not have to kill or injure an aid worker in order to be included in the database, the incident must however, impact upon the delivery of aid. Deaths, injuries and damage to organisations’ property are recorded.
Wille told AOAV that the recording methodology includes both open-source and information provided to them by humanitarian organisations. In terms of the open source data, they subscribe to news providers with a specific humanitarian outlet, such as Reuters and Relief Web, receiving daily humanitarian alerts. These alerts are then manually analysed, and any relevant incident is recorded in the database.
Secondly Insecurity Insights works with humanitarian agencies in the field. These organisations confidentially provide Insecurity insights with information about any incidents which have impacted their delivery of aid. These incidents are then inserted into the SiND. The incidents reported by the agencies themselves are very rarely captured by open-source news reports. The incidents reported by the agencies tend to “describe how even smaller events really impact on [organisations’] ability to work.” Organisations providing data to be included in the SiND are provided with access to the database.
Regarding the impact of IEDs specifically, the database does not disaggregate data fully. Wille told AOAV that while they have the category of IED in their database, if any real analysis was to be done on IED attacks specifically, then the data would need to be looked at again in order to ensure that the data was coded accurately: “there may be a certain number of events that could be additionally classified if someone with a bit more specific case knowledge would look at it.”
The majority of the open source data is English language news stories, with some French. Wille told AOAV that it is difficult to get Spanish sources, and therefore Latin American is under- represented in the database. She estimated that 80% of open sources are English language, with 19% being French and the final 1% being other languages.
The database is not available to the public, so it is difficult to analyse its content and utility.
Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism, Suicide Attack Database (CPost)
A complete list of suicide attacks around the world since 1982.
The Suicide Attack Database is run by the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism, an international security affairs research institute based at the University of Chicago. 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:
- At least one attacker must kill him or herself to kill others;
- 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 August 2014, the database con- tained a total of 4,031 attacks in over 40 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 OpenSource.gov. 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: AOAV data from 2013 found that just under a fifth of IED incidents globally were reported to involve suicide attacks. While the database shows important trends in the use of suicide IEDs, its utility is limited to this.
To be included in the database, 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.
South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP)
Terrorist events in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
The SATP is “an endeavor to achieve an under- standing of the world of terror, in order to stop it.” The SATP was established by the Institute for Conflict Management, a non-profit set up in 1997 in New Delhi. It records information on terrorist incidents, and has a daily terrorism update. This update includes where possible, for each incident, names of casualties and how they were killed or injured, including if the cause was an IED.
The SATP also publishes the South Asia intelligence review, a weekly assessment of terrorist incidents.
The data cannot be downloaded, so it is difficult to fully analyse. The data cannot be searched by weapon, and incidents are not specifically coded as being caused by IEDs, so it is of limited utility.
Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED)
Incidents of political violence in developing states, with on-going data collection focused on Africa only.
ACLED claims to be the “most comprehensive public collection of political violence data for developing states.” It contains information on the specific dates and locations of political violence, the types of event, the groups involved, fatalities and changes in territorial control.
The database contains historic data from 1997, and is updated on a real-time basis.
Over 80,000 incidents had been recorded as of early 2014. The purpose of the project is that the “data can be used for medium- and long-term analysis and mapping of political violence across developing countries through use of historical data from 1997, as well as informing humanitarian and development work in crisis and conflict-affected contexts through realtime data updates and reports.”
The database can be downloaded for free by the public.
The database contains fields such as date, time, event type and the number of fatalities. IED incidents are captured by the database, but the type of weapon used in an incident is not specifically noted.
ACLED uses three sources:
- Local, regional, national and continental news media is reviewed daily;
- NGO reports are used to supplement media reporting;
- Africa-focused news reports and analyses supplement daily media reporting.
Every ACLED incident requires at least one source, and the source is contained in the database. While the link to the source is not included, the publication details are, enabling the user to find the original source. Caitriona Dowd, Senior Researcher at ACLED, told AOAV that “for many events, a combination of sources is reviewed for information on a single event, with the intention of triangulating data from a variety of sources.” The data is collected by individual researchers, and inputted into the database manually.
The ACLED data is not coded by weapon type. The database is extremely comprehensive, but it is difficult to search it by incident caused by IEDs. The only way to do this is to manually search through the ‘notes’ field, and identify individual incidents which have been caused by IEDs. With a database containing over 80,000 incidents, this is time-consuming and inefficient.
Iraq Body Count (IBC)
Civilian deaths in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, and a separate running total which includes combatants.
IBC was founded in January 2003 by volunteers from the UK and USA who “felt responsibility to ensure that the human consequences of military intervention in Iraq were not neglected.”
The database includes deaths caused by US-led coalition forces and paramilitary or criminal attacks by others. At a minimum, each incident recorded includes the number of people killed, where, and when. However, the data can be much more extensive, including details of the following: date, time, place, target, minimum deaths, maximum deaths, minimum injuries, maximum injuries, weapons, killers, media sources, primary witnesses, name, age, gender, martial status, parental status, and occupation.
As much detail as possible is recorded in a standard format, which also ensures that double counting does not occur. The database can record a range of deaths, with the highest and lowest number of deaths published by at least two independent sources being recorded.
The database is free and able to be downloaded by the public. It contains 18 variables, including weapon type, and is relatively easily searched. IBC also releases its distinct original press and media sources to “bona-fide enquirers for research and verification purposes.”
IBC uses English language media reports of violent events and bodies being found as the primary sources for their data, although the reports do not always originate in English. These media reports are supplemented by the “review and integration” of hospital, morgue, NGO and official figures. All incidents must be reported by a minimum of two independent sources. Where this is not possible, the incident will be marked as ‘provisional.’
For the purposes of this survey, the principal limitation is found in the coding of the weapon used in each incident. There appears to be no common terms used by those entering incidents into the database, which makes it extremely difficult to search the database for incidents which involved an IED. For example, under ‘weapons,’ one can find a myriad of descriptions, including: “a car packed with explosives,” “car bomb,” “roadside bomb,” “bomb in cart,” “bomb in cart near café.” This makes any analysis of the use of IEDs in Iraq very difficult, if not impossible.
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR)
Daily and total deaths of civilians, protesters and armed actors in Syria since the beginning of the uprising in March 2011.
The SOHR was established in May 2006 in order initially to raise awareness of human rights and freedom of speech violations in Syria. Rami Abdelrahman, a Syrian national who now lives in Coventry, England, runs it, and the organisation is not associated or linked with any political body.
In March 2011 the group began counting deaths from the Syrian uprising and conflict, including those caused by IEDs. The numbers of deaths recorded by SOHR have been regularly reported by NGOs and international newspapers in cover- age of the conflict.
Abdelrahman says that he receives reports of fatalities from over 200 individual sources within Syria, who he stays in contact with via mobile phone and Skype. According to The New York Times, four men inside Syria help to report and collate the information provided by activists. Incident reports are published on the website, alongside information regarding fatalities.
The data provided by the SOHR is presented in incident reports, and a downloadable database does not exist. This makes it difficult to search for specific information. Since international media is banned from Syria, it is extremely difficult to verify the information provided by the SOHR.
Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria (VDC Syria)
Violations of human rights in Syria.
The VDC has been monitoring human rights violations in Syria since April 2011. Its mandate is to “monitor and document all crimes and violations against human rights in Syria, and attempt to protect and enhance these rights in the culture of the Syrians.”
The group documents deaths, including names where possible, detainees, those who are missing and those who are kidnapped. It terms those who are killed by government forces as “Syrian martyrs,” but also records regime casualties. Statistics are published on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis, with total figures and graphs available on the website.
The database, while not downloadable, is searchable in a number of fields, including “cause of death.” One of the data fields defined as a cause of death is “explosion” which includes deaths caused by IEDs. However, “explosion” does not necessarily mean an IED was the cause of death, for example one “explosion” death is provided as being caused by “the explosion of a cluster bomb from an earlier shelling.”
Extensive information is recorded for each death, with information including, where possible, name, status (i.e. civilian or non-civilian), ID card number, martyrdom location, cause of death and notes. The records also include photographs where possible, and notes which generally contain specific weapon information.
The Center has more than 30 activists in several Syrian cities and regions, and a team of coordinators who live both inside and outside Syria. Those activists inside Syria gather and document information on human rights violations. They also depend on “reliable sources like field hospitals, cemeteries, casualties’ families and some of the media centers.”40 Initial information is collected the day of, or in the days following, an incident.
In the days, weeks, and months after, lists of those who were killed are sent to the field activists to ensure that there are no errors and that as much information as possible is contained in each record.
The data is not broken down specifically enough to determine the number of deaths caused by IEDs in Syria. While such information is contained in the notes of each record, it is not easily searchable.
The Global Database of Events, Language and Tone (GDELT)
“Identifies the people, locations, organisations, counts, themes, sources, and events driving our global society every second of every day, creating a free open platform for computing on the entire world.”
GDELT was set up by Kalev Leetaru at the University of Illinois. It codes events from riots and protests to diplomatic exchanges and peace appeals. It is thought that the database may be able to be used to predict future violence and anticipate political events.47 Leetaru says the goal of the project is “to create a free and open global resource for the quantitative study and mapping of global conflict and cooperation.”
The database is free for the public to download, but its size and scope require a significant knowledge of data management to use the database. It has over 250 million events in over 300 categories, stretching back to 1 January 1979 and is updated daily.
The data is also available in monthly and daily files.
The dataset is built around automated content analysis of new articles. These articles, which are taken from “all national and international news coverage from the New York Times, all international and major US national stories from the Associated Press, and all national and international news from Google News with the exception of sports, entertainment, and strictly economic news,” are fed into a computer and run through a specific algorithm designed to extract and code events.
The dataset is massive and not entirely searchable. Incidents are not specifically coded as having involved IEDs, and the size of the database means it would be very difficult to identify such information. The user requires significant experience and knowledge of datasets just to make sense of the data.
Sources are not reported, creating a lack of transparency in the data collecting process. This prevents third party verification of the data. Sources may also be biased towards English language reported incidents.
European Bomb Data System (EBDS)
Information and intelligence on explosives and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear related incidents.
The EBDS was developed as a platform for the exchange of information and intelligence on explosives and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear related incidents. It was initially funded from 1 December 2008 to 31 March 2010 by the European Commission for the Prevention of and Fight against Crime, and had a budget of EURO 788,683. It was then funded by AMITA, a Canadian IT company specialising in safety, security and emergency management.
The information contained in the database is authoritative; derived from official sources such as National Bomb Data Centres and other govern- mental bodies. It is “based on official sources, preventing wrong assumptions or assessments based on, often misleading, open source information.” The database is available at no cost to experts from “relevant EU authorities,” and is available in 22 different languages.
The database is not available widely. The information contained in the database therefore has limited wider utility and an analysis of the database itself by members of the public is impossible.
Bomb Arson Tracking System (BATS)
Arson and explosive incidents in the US.
In 2004, the Attorney General mandated that all of the US Department of Justice’s arson and explosives datasets be consolidated into a single database, BATS. It was developed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the US Bomb Data Center to “better enable to reporting of arson and explosives-related incidents to the national database by federal, state, and local agencies.”
It is free to use for these agencies, and allows bomb technicians and investigators to perform trend analysis and compare incidents. Theoretically, all IED-related incidents in the US should be reported and included in BATS.
US bomb squads should report incidents to the database for inclusion. Little information is avail- able on the methodology, and only US agencies can access the database.
While the database should theoretically contain all data related to IEDs in the US, it has been reported that only 27% of US bomb squads were reporting to the database. Of these 27%, only half were reporting all incidents. This means the database remains inappropriate for an overall analysis of IED use in the US.
National Bomb Databases
A number of countries have their own national databases which record incidents involving bombs and explosives, therefore including IEDs. Each of these databases is slightly different, and the information available on each varies.
The Canadian Bomb Data Center (CBDC), for example, records the criminal use of explosives in Canada, producing a public yearly report detailing the number of criminal incidents involving explosives, including when an IED is recovered. They also detail the number of deaths and injuries, divided per Canadian state. Police can access “an extensive library of information about explosives disposal and post-blast investigation,” as well as consulting with CBDC experts.
Canadian police services are encouraged to submit their statistics to the CBDC, but are not obliged to, meaning that the database is not “wholly reflective of all explosive incidents.”
Australia has one of the world’s oldest bomb data centres, the Australia Bomb Data Centre having begun operations on 1 July 1978. Its role is to “collect, collate, interpret and disseminate data gathered from within Australia and overseas, concerning explosives and incendiaries, whether commercial, military or improvised.” Its primary objective is to provide information to participating agencies and “assist in reducing the loss of life and damage caused by the unlawful use of explosives.” Government agencies and commercial organisations can access the information, and publications are released to the public.
These are two examples of many national bomb databases, and they demonstrate both the importance and the limitations of these centres. It is very important that governments and domestic police forces record data on the use of explosives and IEDs, and that this information is shared with government and security agencies. However, the data is largely not available to parties out with these specific categories, so is of limited utility and is difficult to analyse.
The AXON Global IED Partnership was initiated by the Australian Defence Force, partnering with Palantir Technologies, in April 2014. It is a pilot program and is currently in a trial phase until at least April 2015. The trial was announced as an official Australian trial at the Convention of Certain Conventional Weapons, Ammended Protocol II meeting in Geneva. AXON aims to encourage nations and jurisdictions to reduce the barriers to information sharing and includes functionality to allow basic post event IED data sharing in a smart repository. Information to be shared focuses on event data such as date, location, and type of IED incidents.
The pilot program is designed and being project managed by the Australian Defence Force Counter IED Task Force (ADF CIEDTF). AXON Project Manager, Major Simon Patching, indicated the intention of the program is for participating nations and entities to provide officially sanctioned data from relevant authorities who deal with IEDs. Even basic IED data such as date, location and type of IED, can be enough to provide a more meaningful picture of IED activity, without providing information which may be required to remain confidential for police investigations and judicial processes.
As at February 2015, some 12 countries and entities such as UNMAS and INTERPOL are taking part in the trial. As well as being a repository of IED incidents, the project interface provides participants the ability to conduct valuable data analytics. Patching emphasized the need for the CIED community to reconsider a default setting of classifying and keeping IED event data on closed systems. AXON advocates a ‘justify to classify’ approach with a view to bringing about cultural change in the community to improve collaboration between nations and jurisdictions. He spoke of the benefit of sharing information, and providing as much information as possible so that countries can act appropriately on the basis of reliable data. Project participants have equal access to the data; whoever provides data then has access to all other data.
Participating countries and select CIED community entities may provide data to the AXON team which is then ingested to the repository for use by the collective. Data is provided via official channels – a key distinction from sourcing open source information about IEDs which can not be verified.
At the moment the AXON project is in a trial phase, so it is difficult to analyse how successful or otherwise the project will be once this phase ends. A post trial report will be provided at the April 2015 meeting of the CCW APII in Geneva.
The database is aimed to provide officials of nations and select CIED community institutions (eg UNMAS) officially derived, accurate basic post event data. Consideration to how NGOs (more broadly) and other organisations could have access to the database is being considered, but is not currently a function of the trial. Patching indicated the Project team and participants were learning constantly through undertaking this project. In particular, he mentioned the importance of brining the international community together to create a common IED language (lexicon) which was appropriate for a multilingual and multijurisdictional environment.
Patching also discussed the importance of establishing an agreed international standard for IED event data sharing. He spoke of a general under- standing with the CIED community that improved information sharing is essential to tackling the problem into the future, but much work needs to be done to overcome the default setting of officials to consider all IED event data protected. The AXON team is encouraged by the appetite shown by the community for such a data repository and is committed to improving data sharing between nations and jurisdictions through thought and action leadership.
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