In recent years, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) have consistently been recorded as causing the most civilian deaths and injuries of all explosive weapon types around the world. Second only to small arms, they are the weapon of violence that inflicts the most harm to civilians, and yet the international attempts to stem such harm is often lacking in both coordination and commitment.
Over the last five years – between 2011 and 2015 – English language media reporting listed at least 6,320 IED incidents in 75 countries. In total there were 12,566 recorded explosive violence incidents from all types of weapons, so IEDs accounted for just over half of all such events. Of course, it is impossible to claim that English language media reporting captures each and every death and injury from IEDs worldwide, but the data from Action on Armed Violence’s explosive violence monitor provides an insight into patterns of harm from these – and other – explosive weapons.
« Of all the deaths and injuries worldwide from explosive violence, 56% were caused by IEDs »
The data shows that at least 105,071 people (86,395 civilians and 18,676 armed actors) were recorded killed or wounded by IEDs in this five-year time frame. 82% of all those reported killed or injured by IEDs were civilians.
In fact, of all the deaths and injuries worldwide from explosive violence (188,325, as reported in English language media), 56% were caused by IEDs. This amounts to 59% of all civilian deaths and injuries (totalling 145,565) and 43% of all armed actors deaths and injuries (totalling 42,760).
The data also shows a concerning pattern of harm. In 2011, 76% of all those killed or injured by IEDs were listed in English language media as being civilians. By 2015, this percentage had risen to 85%. Clearly, more and more non-state actors using IEDs are increasingly deliberately targeting civilians.
Indeed, the average IED incident caused 14 civilian deaths and injuries. In populated areas, this figure was 21. And towns and cities are also more likely to be the scene of IED attacks too. 58%, or 3,685, of all reported IED incidents occurred in populated areas, compared to 42%, or 2,635 incidents, in areas not reported as populated.
« 92% of all IED deaths and injuries in populated areas were reported to be that of civilians »
This should be of major concern because 92% of all IED deaths and injuries in populated areas were reported to be that of civilians. In lesser-populated areas, this figure fell to 43%. It is worth noting that the proportion of civilians impacted by such weapons in lesser-populated areas is higher than the equivalent figures for ground-launched weapons (38%) and for air-launched weapons (19%).
In terms of the types of IEDs used in the last 5 years, of all the IED incidents recorded by AOAV between 2011 and 2015, 67% (4,216 incidents) were not reported as being activated by a particular method. Less than 1% of incidents were recorded as having been activated by timed detonation (52 incidents); 5% were recorded as victim-activated (for example by pressure pad) and 8% as remotely detonated.
Over the five-year period, AOAV recorded 1,171 suicide bombings, representing 19% of all IED incidents. Of these, 698 were ‘non-specific IEDs’ (60% incidents, largely representing suicide vests) and 446 (38%) were suicide car bombs.
Indeed, as a whole, car bombs consistently killed and injured more civilians per incident than other kinds of IED. This is to be expected given that much larger explosive payloads can be delivered by a car bomb than by, say, an explosive vest.
« In 2015, suicide bombings were recorded in 21 countries – the highest number ever recorded »
AOAV’s figures have also consistently shown that suicide bombings cause greater civilian harm than non-suicide IED attacks. Non-specific IED suicide bombings (typically suicide vests) in particular caused on average 27 civilian deaths and injuries per incident; for non-suicide non-specific IEDs, this figure falls to 13.
These averages – although high – do not reflect the deeper potential that suicide bombings have to cause huge civilian harm. Of the ten worst incidents recorded by AOAV over the five-year period, five were suicide bombings.
In line with this, over the five-year period AOAV has also recorded a worrisome overall trend of rising civilian deaths and injuries from suicide bombings, as well as ever-greater numbers of countries affected.
In 2015, for example, suicide bombings were recorded in 21 countries – the highest number ever recorded both by AOAV and other datasets. Indeed, 2015 saw a considerable uptick in the overall lethality of suicide bombings. This was in spite of similar incident numbers.
Suicide strikes in 2015 resulted in an average of 36 civilian deaths and injuries per incident, markedly higher than the five-year average of 28. This rise can largely be attributed to an intensification of high-profile suicide bombings launched by Boko Haram and ISIS.
In 2015, 9,109 civilians were reported killed or injured in suicide attacks and lives were shattered in 248 incidents in mosques and markets, checkpoints and restaurants around the world. In 2011, when AOAV started our monitor of global news reports, 5,107 civilians were reported killed or injured by suicide bombers. This means 2015 saw a rise in suicide attacks by some 78%.
« Rise in suicide attacks by some 78% »
Admittedly, it was not the worst year for suicide attacks on record – 2007 was. That year, according to the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism, some 20,400 people were killed or injured in suicide attacks. But in 2007 the vast majority of these were in Iraq and Afghanistan and suicide bombs were recorded in just 12 countries.
By contrast, in 2015 places previously untouched by suicide attacks were hit. Chad was targeted for the first time (459 civilians killed or wounded), as was Cameroon (431). And Nigeria’s civilian death and injury rate (which, at 2,062, was the highest from suicide bombings) was 14 times that of 2011.
The year also showed another trend: that of the suicide vest as terrorists’ explosive weapon of choice. In 2015, according to AOAV’s data, suicide attacks were behind 56% of the 16,180 civilian deaths or injuries from IEDs worldwide – including car bombs and roadside bombs. In 2011, it was just 38% (5,107 of 13,336).
There are no easy fixes. Last year, when Mozambique declared itself free of landmines, you saw the remarkable result of a coalition of states and charities at work. But improvised explosive devices which are triggered by the user are not prohibited under the Mine Ban Treaty.
There are no legitimate suicide vest factories that can be shut down by governments.
The materials used in suicide bombs often have additional, legitimate uses – such as fertiliser – so it is impractical to ban the precursor explosive materials that make up suicide vests.
It is true that some states are waking up to the need for a multi-national, multi-layered response to the problem. Last year, an Afghan resolution was adopted at the United Nations General Assembly, aimed at countering the threat of IEDs. It called for information sharing and a comprehensive approach to countering the growing threat.
France also plays a leading role in the disarmament forum of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons in Geneva, hosting side events focusing on this issue. And last year Australia hosted a global summit of police, intelligence services and military leaders in Canberra, again seeking ways to combat the threat.
But these approaches are often underfunded, in danger of repetition and often lack coordination. Innovative approaches are needed to address this complex threat. Aerial strikes on IS targets are not going to stop the spread.
Ultimately, governments need to fund a coordinated response. They need to ensure that explosive munitions stockpiles are properly regulated; they must help the civilians whose lives have been shattered by this pernicious weapon, and engage with religious leaders, charities and other groups to find ways to stigmatise their use. They must ensure a coordinated response to transnational smuggling networks.
« The global spread of IEDs is the largest peace-keeping challenge »
The only way to beat the IED network is to be as innovative and responsive as the network itself. IEDs will not be stopped militarily alone. An approach driven by the police will never go as far as is needed. Customs can only prevent the spread of certain precursors. What is needed is dramatic and innovative thinking.
In many ways the global spread of IEDs is the largest peace-keeping challenge to the UN in modern times. And the UN itself will have to be innovative if it wants to take up to this challenge.
If you found this report interesting, perhaps you would like to read Anatomy of a Suicide Bombing, which examines the impact of suicide bombings.
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