Exclusive: New terrorism data breaks down ISIS's deadly year
Few people heard about the first ISIS attack in the United States. On October 23, 2014, a self-radicalized Muslim man charged at four New York City police officers with a hatchet, striking one in the arm and another in the head. Both officers survived, but their assailant, 32-year-old Zale Thompson, was shot dead on the scene. The Islamic State later claimed to have inspired Thompson with its September "call to arms."
Since then, ISIS attacks outside the Middle East have grown far more public -- and deadly. Massacres in places like Paris, Southern California, Brussels and Orlando have transformed the organization from a faraway problem to an existential threat to Western civilization.
The attacks spread fear and confusion through the public, helping bolster political movements that run counter to many Western nations' foundational principles of religious freedom and cultural tolerance. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump repeatedly used the attacks to justify a temporary ban on Muslim immigration to the U.S., anti-immigration rhetoric helped push the United Kingdom out of the EU and far-right political parties have surged in Europe in a way unseen since World War II.
Devastating images of Falluja after years of ISIS occupation
As the Western world struggles through its identity crisis over how to combat terrorism, the Islamic State continues to ravage the Middle East and Africa. In Iraq and Syria, the organization still controls large swaths of territory, subjecting millions of people to its corrupted brand of Sharia law. ISIS also conducts military operations in Libya and Egypt, and has declared provinces in eight other countries where it orchestrates frequent attacks. Still, the vast majority of the group's violence goes unreported by the mainstream media.
Using never-before-seen data from counterterrorism intelligence firm IntelCenter, Graphiq politics site InsideGov examines ISIS attacks by the numbers, breaking down the facts and figures you need to better understand this brutal organization.
The World's Most Deadly Terror Organization
Though the Islamic State has dominated U.S. news and political debate for years, it's not the world's only terrorist organization. A number of other groups, including the Taliban and al-Shabab, still inflict massive loss of life around the globe.
That said, the Islamic State is by far the deadliest terrorist group of 2016. From Jan. 1 through July 19, ISIS killed 6,742 people and injured another 6,076 worldwide. That's almost double the total casualties of the next eight deadliest terrorist organizations combined.
Not only did the Islamic State inflict the most devastation, but its attacks have the largest geographic distribution of any group on the list. While the Taliban concentrated its efforts in Afghanistan and al-Shabab focused on Somalia and Kenya, ISIS claimed responsibility for incidents in 27 different countries spread across four continents, according to IntelCenter.
One major reason the Islamic State can bring about such widespread destruction is the group's system of affiliates. Through its 11 provincial branches, or wilayats, the organization maintains a presence in many different territories without spreading itself too thin. Al-Qaeda used a similar system of affiliate groups to sustain its grip on the Middle East. The roots of the Islamic State can actually be found in one such organization, al-Qaeda in Iraq.
U.S. and Europe Not the Focus
When violence struck Paris, San Bernardino, Brussels and Orlando, the Western world wept. Victims were mourned, nations stood in solidarity and the Islamic State became a primary national security concern.
Attacks in the West, however, remain rare. That's not to minimize the massacres in the U.S. and Europe -- every terrorism death is a tragedy. But deaths outside Western countries aren't discussed nearly as often.
Of the 12,814 casualties perpetrated by the Islamic State in 2016, 376 of them occurred in the U.S. and Western Europe, mostly in the Brussels airport and Orlando nightclub attacks. Because authorities are still investigating whether the Nice attacker had Islamic State ties, those 286 casualties are not included here. Comparatively, ISIS has killed or injured 8,134 people in Iraq and Syria. Libya, Nigeria and Cameroon have each suffered more than 500 casualties from the Islamic State as well. Iraq has suffered the highest number of casualties at the hand of ISIS, with 5,514 people injured or killed.
In the above visualization, the "casualties" refers to total deaths and injuries.
When considering total deaths relative to population, the statistics become even more staggering. The population of Iraq stands at 35.9 million, compared to 318.9 million in the U.S. So far this year, Iraq has lost 3,350 lives at the hands of ISIS, while the U.S. has lost 49. As it stands, Iraq's ISIS mortality rate is higher than the U.S. death rate from Parkinson's disease -- the No. 14 killer in America. If fatalities continue in Iraq at the same pace for the rest of 2016, that country's ISIS mortality rate would rank as America's ninth leading cause of death.
In the U.S., comparatively, you're about nine times more likely to die falling out of bed than in an ISIS attack.
A Violent Holy Month
During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims engage in intense prayer and strict fasting. Like the Christian season of Lent or the Jewish holy day Yom Kippur, it's a time for self-reflection and reconnecting with God.
But Ramadan 2016, which ran from June 5 through July 5, brought with it a spike in Islamic State violence. In the deadliest month of 2016, the organization's 227 attacks killed or injured almost 3,000 people. That's an average of 100 casualties per day.
A handful of prominent attacks contributed to the Islamic State's particularly bloody holy month. Ramadan began with the discovery of a 400-person mass grave in the Iraqi city of Saqlawiyah (June 5), followed by the Orlando nightclub shooting (June 12), Atatürk Airport attack (June 28), Dhaka cafe attack (July 1) and Baghdad car bombing (July 3). Together, the casualties from just these five events total 1,378.
Tactics and Targets
Guerilla warfare operations made up the vast majority of Islamic State attacks in 2016, with 617 incidents. Other common attack tactics include executions, suicide bombings, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs). While guerilla attacks have killed the most people in 2016, suicide bombings have inflicted the highest number of casualties overall.
The primary goal of any terrorist attack is for each person involved to do as much damage as possible. To understand what types of attacks are the most effective and lethal, it helps to look at casualty ratios. IntelCenter calculated this figure by dividing the number of victim casualties by the number of attacker casualties for a given incident. When looking at 2016 ISIS attacks, VBIEDs, or car bombs, have the highest casualty ratio.
ISIS attacks targeting civilians often get the most media coverage. While there's no doubt that assaults on markets, airports and places of worship are especially heinous, they make up a relatively small portion of the overall violence perpetrated by the Islamic State. According to IntelCenter, military forces are the group's most frequent target. Attacks on the military have also inflicted more casualties than violence against any other target, with 3,548 people killed or injured.
In the above visualization, attacks on "Individuals" mostly include executions.
IntelCenter's data only covers 2016 Islamic State attacks through July 19. If violence continues at the current rate, more than 23,000 people worldwide will be victims of ISIS attacks by the end of the year.