Back to publications
Research Paper

War by Suicide: A Statistical Analysis of the Islamic State’s Martyrdom Industry

27 Feb 2017
Long read by Charlie Winter

This Research Paper explores the so-called Islamic State’s use of suicide tactics over the course of 12 months – from 1 December 2015 to 30 November 2016. It uses an exhaustive sample of the group’s suicide operation reports as a window into the tactical and strategic underpinnings of its martyrdom industry. After first establishing what precisely is meant by the term ‘suicide tactics’ in the context of the Islamic State (IS), the 923 suicide operations that were individually reported in the group’s official propaganda between December 2015 and November 2016 are statistically evaluated, allowing for an exploration of when, how and where IS used suicide tactics over the period in question, as well as who its suicide operatives were. The paper demonstrates that IS’s present approach towards suicide bucks past trends. Instead of predominantly being carried out by foreigners against civilian targets, as was the case in Iraq in the 2000s, its suicide attacks are now primarily perpetrated by local operatives against military targets. This reflects a new phase of operationalisation for suicide warfare; a tactical shift with strategic implications that will change the insurgent and terrorist landscape for years to come.

How to cite: Winter, C. "War by Suicide: A Statistical Analysis of the Islamic State’s Martyrdom Industry", The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism - The Hague 8, no.3 (2017).