Beginning in October 2015 and ending in September 2017, Amaq News Agency (the unofficial IS ‘state media’) regularly summarised all IS-claimed “martyrdom operations” (suicide bombings) in Syria, Iraq and Libya in infographics released on a monthly basis. Though these infographics looked different and didn’t include the same level of detail each month, they served as an important source of statistics measuring the group’s own tally of its suicide bombings. While suicide bombings can be further divided into a variety of different methods, this article will mainly be focused on the statistics measuring IS use of Suicide Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (SVBIEDs).
The first Amaq infographics detailing the group’s use of suicide bombings were released in late 2015 and noticeably lacked detail compared to later versions. They did not divide the ‘martyrdom operations’ into different types, making it very difficult to gauge how many of said attacks were SVBIEDs. The below infographics cover the period of October through December of 2015.
The December infographic included more detail, showing that IS used at least 39 SVBIEDs in its territories that month.
Starting in 2016 the infographics – while still varying in design each month – maintained a similar structure in the way the statistics were displayed. Here are all the 12 infographics for 2016, followed by a summary and graph.
In the first days of January the following year, Amaq also published an infographic summarising all their suicide bombings carried out during the previous year.
Based on the 12 individual infographics published each month in 2016, I made a graph showing the data below:
January: 47 SVBIEDs
February: 51 SVBIEDs
March: 80 SVBIEDs (3 of which were 2-man SVBIEDs)
April: 51 (1 of which was a 2-man SVBIED)
May: 76 SVBIEDs
June: 88 SVBIEDs (3 of which were 2-man SVBIEDs)
July: 44 SVBIEDs (2 of which were 2-man SVBIEDs)
August: 68 SVBIEDs (4 of which were 2-man SVBIEDs)
September: 38 SVBIEDs
October: 88 SVBIEDs (1 of which was a 2-man SVBIED)
November: 121 SVBIEDs (3 of which were 2-man SVBIEDs)
December: 90 SVBIEDs (1 of which was a 2-man SVBIED and 1 which was an SVBIED based on a motorcycle)
However, there’s a distinct discrepancy when one compares the total figures for all the individual infographics with the complete 2016 infographic. Combining all the data observed in the individual monthly infographics, the total number of SVBIED attacks they claim to have carried out during the entirety of the year sits at 842. Of those, 18 were 2-man SVBIEDs and one based on a motorcycle – leaving the number of standard SVBIEDs at 823. When looking at the infographic covering the whole year, the number of 2-man and motorcycle SVBIEDs are the same while the number of standard SVBIEDs sits at 797, 26 less than what was claimed altogether in the individual infographics. The reason for this discrepancy is because Amaq chose not to account for suicide bombings carried out in Libya in their complete 2016 infographic, bombings that were mostly accounted for in the monthly infographics.
Regardless, it should be made absolutely clear though that there is no guarantee whatsoever that the Islamic State’s self-reported figures regarding its own use of SVBIEDs is an accurate estimation of the actual figure.
The number of SVBIEDs carried out in each country during 2016 is also difficult to figure out, both because of a lack of clarity in the individual infographics and the complete 2016 infographic not differentiating between suicide bombing methods when tallying the number of attacks conducted versus each group/state. Out of all 1112 claimed suicide bombings, SVBIED attacks made up 73,4% at 816 attacks.
The publishing of these monthly infographics continued during 2017, with the final one being released in September of that year.
The reason why these infographics suddenly stopped being published after the September 2017 release is likely partly due to Amaq’s media team decreasing as a result of the combined anti-IS aerial and ground operations. Another reason why they may have intentionally chosen to stop publishing the infographics is because they were an indication of the self-proclaimed caliphate’s diminishing size. Below is a graph showing all claimed SVBIED attacks by IS from January-September 2017.
January: 76 SVBIEDs (2 of which were 2-man SVBIEDs)
February: 69 SVBIEDs
March: 86 SVBIEDs (3 of which were 2-man SVBIEDs)
April: 51 SVBIEDs
May: 73 SVBIEDs
June: 36 SVBIEDs
July: 35 SVBIEDs
August: 29 SVBIEDs (2 of which were 2-man SVBIEDs)
Despite the lack of monthly infographics from September and onwards, Amaq still released an infographic detailing all their suicide bombings in 2017:
According to this infographic, IS claimed a total of 568 SVBIED attacks during 2017 – with 7 of those being 2-man SVBIEDs. Tallied up, the monthly infographics account for 510 claimed SVBIED attacks up until September 2017, with 7 of those being 2-man SVBIEDs. Compared to the complete 2017 infographic, this would indicate that IS only claimed 58 SVBIED attacks in October, November, and December 2017 together – an average of just 19 per month. SVBIED attacks made up a clear majority of overall suicide bombings in 2017 as well at 73,7%.
Below is a graph combining the monthly numbers of claimed SVBIED attacks from January 2016 through September 2017:
The fluctuating figures from month to month all reflect spikes in hostilities when anti-IS forces have conducted offensive operations aimed at retaking cities and areas from IS. For example, the spikes in March as well as May-June of 2016 correspond with the Iraqi offensives aimed at retaking Fallujah and other areas in Anbar province. The much longer October 2016-May 2017 spike corresponds with the Iraqi offensive aimed at retaking Mosul – a battle that Amaq also released monthly infographics for.
Parallel to the infographics detailing suicide bombings across its territories, IS also published monthly infographics covering the drawn out battle of Mosul specifically. Below are all 9 published infographics concerning the battle of Mosul:
Month 1 (October 17 – November 17) – 124
Month 2 (November 17 – December 17) – 91
Month 3 (December 18 – January 17) – 58
Month 4 (January 18 – February 17) – 20
Month 5 (February 18 – March 17) – 80
Month 6 (March 18 – April 17) – 32
Month 7 (April 18 – May 17) – 44
Month 8 (May 18 – June 17) – 19
Month 9 (June 18 – July 17) – 11
I’ve combined all the above data in a graph shown below:
The graph tells quite a lot about how the battle of Mosul played out. Beginning with 124 SVBIED attacks in the first month of the battle, that figure continuously dropped until it reached a low of 20 in the fourth month (Jan-Feb 2017). The Iraqi army had managed to capture Eastern Mosul by then, providing a lull in fighting until the battle for Western Mosul commenced the following month – also explaining the sudden and dramatic rise that month. The subsequent gradual decline in number of SVBIED attacks also corresponds with the decrease in IS territorial control of Western Mosul, until Iraqi forces managed to completely capture the city in July. On top of these monthly Mosul infographics, IS would also publish a final Mosul infographic in al-Naba with statistics from the entire battle start to finish:
The al-Naba infographic puts the total number of SVBIED attacks carried out by IS during the battle of Mosul at 482. By tallying up the monthly infographics, the same figure is 479 – 3 less than what was claimed in the al-Naba infographic.
While these self-published statistics shouldn’t be taken at face value as they’re difficult to verify, they are likely not that far from the truth and provide an interesting snapshot of IS defensive military operations. The spikes observed in the number of SVBIED attacks correspond to anti-IS offensive action carried out during the January 2016 – September 2017 time period.