The Military Defeat of Islamic State Has Made Suicide Bombings Less Common—for Now

January 10, 2020 | Yoram Schweitzer, Aviad Mendelboim, Dana Ayalon
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The past year saw a total of 149 suicide bombings worldwide—a nearly-50-percent drop since the previous year, in keeping with what now appears to be a downward trend since 2015. Yoram Schweitzer, Aviad Mendelboim, and Dana Ayalon analyze the data:

Despite the sharp decline in 2019 in the number of suicide bombings carried out by Islamic State (IS) and its global affiliates—some 60 percent—it remained the main element perpetrating such attacks. . . . These attacks killed around 850 people. . . . In parallel, 2019 also saw al-Qaeda and its affiliates . . . carry out around 52 attacks—around 35 percent of all suicide bombings.

Overall, the data indicate that terrorist groups identified with the Salafi-jihadist movement were responsible in 2019 for some 97 percent of all suicide bombings. . . . Despite the reduction in the number of suicide bombings in the Middle East, the region remains a central arena for this tactic.

Among the main factors in the reduction in the number of suicide bombings in 2019 was the military defeat and ongoing decline of Islamic State, especially in the last two years. This led to a total loss of control over territory as well as a sharp erosion in income and, in the absence of new recruits, of operatives.

[Nonetheless], a renewal of momentum for terrorist attacks—including suicide bombings . . . can be expected, [possibly carried out by Islamic State] fighters who are still in various areas in Syria and Iraq. . . . Thus the decline in the number of suicide bombings in 2019, as a continuation of the trend noted in previous years, does not necessary attest to this tactic being any less alluring for groups that are disposed to use it and believe in its effectiveness.

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