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About the Author Charlie Winter Charlie Winter is an Associate Fellow at ICCT who studies terrorism, insurgency and innovation, with a focus on online and offline strategic communication. He is pursuing a PhD in War Studies at King’s College London, where he is also a Senior Research Fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation. Winter regularly advises governments and often appears in international broadcast and print media. His work has been published by, among others, the CTC Sentinel, The Atlantic, War On The Rocks, Jihadology and the BBC. He holds a BA in Arabic from the University of Edinburgh and an MA in Middle East and Mediterranean Studies from King’s College London.
About ICCT The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague (ICCT) is an independent think and do tank providing multidisciplinary policy advice and practical, solution-oriented implementation support on prevention and the rule of law, two vital pillars of effective counter-terrorism. ICCT’s work focuses on themes at the intersection of countering violent extremism and criminal justice sector responses, as well as human rights related aspects of counter-terrorism. The major project areas concern countering violent extremism, rule of law, foreign fighters, country and regional analysis, rehabilitation, civil society engagement and victims’ voices. Functioning as a nucleus within the international counter-terrorism network, ICCT connects experts, policymakers, civil society actors and practitioners from different fields by providing a platform for productive collaboration, practical analysis, and exchange of experiences and expertise, with the ultimate aim of identifying innovative and comprehensive approaches to preventing and countering terrorism.
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.