The year 2016 was the deadliest in the history of suicide terrorism, an Israeli think tank said, with 469 suicide bombings carried out by 800 perpetrators in 28 countries, causing the deaths of about 5,650 people.
Islamic State was the leading perpetrator of suicide bombings worldwide, being directly or indirectly responsible for approximately 70 percent (322) of the attacks, according to statistics compiled by the Terrorism and Low Intensity Conflict Research Program at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).
As the terror group loses territory, “it appears that suicide terrorism will be a key tool for the Islamic State in consolidating its image as invincible, creating deterrence against its enemies, and taking revenge for the international activity against it,” the think tank said Thursday.
“The Islamic State’s partners and other terrorist groups will also likely redouble their efforts to carry out mass casualty large-scale terrorist attacks.”
Yoram Schweitzer, the senior research fellow who headed the study, said the rise in suicide bombings underlined the growing intensity of terrorism worldwide. “They are the litmus test when it comes to assessing terrorism,” he told The Times of Israel, “because of their devastating effect and the sense of threat they create.”
Suicide bombings have become a main weapon of deterrence and one of the most effective tools for promoting the political goals of terrorist organizations since its use began in the early 1980s, the report said. The use of such bombings in 2016 was unprecedented in several respects, the INSS study found.
The 469 attacks by 800 bombers worldwide marked a small rise on 2015, when 452 suicide bombings were carried out by 735 perpetrators.
In 2016, however, the number of fatalities rose sharply (approximately 5,650 in 2016, compared with 4,330 in 2015), as did the number of those injured (from 8,800 in 2015 to 9,480 in 2016), according to the report. In addition, the number of countries in which suicide bombings occurred reached a new height (28 in 2016, compared with 22 in 2015).
The study’s authors noted, furthermore, that Islamic State claimed to have carried out hundreds of suicide bombings in addition to those documented in the report, “but many of these bombings were neither reported in detail in the media nor supported by independent sources or evidence from the field, and were therefore not included.”
Still, the study found, “there was a slight decline in the frequency of suicide terrorist bombings in southern Asia, and a substantial drop in their frequency in Africa.” On the other hand, Islamic State and the various other groups inspired by or affiliated with it “stepped up their efforts to export suicide terrorism to Europe.”
In the Middle East, the number of suicide bombings rose 45% in 2016 over 2015 (to 298 bombings from 207), and the number of suicide bombers and victims also rose significantly (513 suicide terrorists and approximately 3,915 fatalities in 2016, compared with 353 suicide terrorists and 2,294 fatalities in 2015).
The vast majority of the suicide bombings in the region, about 90%, were carried out by the Islamic State and its affiliated organizations.
In war-torn Syria, the number of suicide bombings rose by some 38% (55 bombings in 2016, compared with 40 in the preceding year). In Libya, the struggle between the army and the Islamic State caused a major increase in suicide bombings (28 bombings in 2016, compared with 13 in 2015).
The study found that a steep rise in the number of suicide bombings was also noted in Turkey (21 bombings in 2016, compared with five in 2015) and Yemen (34 in 2016, compared with 13 in 2015). Isolated suicide bombings also took place in Saudi Arabia (4), Egypt (4), Jordan (2), and Tunisia, Lebanon, Kuwait and Israel (1 each).
The involvement of women in the suicide bombings in 2016 was again significant, the report noted: 44 suicide bombings were carried out during the year with the involvement of 77 women in eight countries around the world, causing the death of approximately 400 people.
Although the number of suicide bombings carried out by women fell sharply, compared with the record number of 118 suicide bombings in 2015, it appears that the use of women as suicide terrorists expanded this year, primarily in theaters in which they had not previously operated: France, Austria, Morocco, Libya, Bangladesh and Indonesia — most of these operations were foiled by security forces.