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Global Jihad: Counting the Cost - New data from the BBC 

First published 15th Dec 2014

Last week, the BBC released the findings of a project to record the casualties of Jihadism from around the world. The study, undertaken in partnership with Kings College London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, focused solely on gathering data on fatalities caused by Jihadist groups that occurred in the month of November, 2014. 

Attack by Boko Haram in Madalla, Nigeria on June 5, 2014. Photo: International Business Times

The data, provided in part by members of the Casualty Recorders Network, including Violations Documentation Center, Syrian Network for Human Rights, and Iraq Body Count, showed that civilians are bearing the brunt of the violence from extremists. Of the 5,042 people recorded by the BBC as killed during the month of November, 2,079 were civilians, the majority killed by explosive weapons. 

Key findings of the project include: 

  • 5,042 people were killed in 664 jihadist attacks across 14 countries - a daily average of 168 deaths, or seven every hour.

  • Civilians bore the brunt of the attacks with a total of 2,079 killed, followed by 1,723 military personnel.

  • About 80% of the deaths came in just four countries - Iraq, Nigeria, Syria and Afghanistan

  • Iraq was the most dangerous place to be, with 1,770 deaths in 233 attacks, ranging from shootings to suicide bombings.

  • In Nigeria, 786 people, almost all of them civilians, were killed in 27 Boko Haram incidents. 

  • Afghanistan suffered almost the same number of deaths as Nigeria (782) 

  • In war-ravaged Syria, 693 people were killed.

  • Yemen had 410 deaths in 37 attacks.

  • Of the 16 jihadist groups involved in the bloodshed, Islamic State was the most deadly, killing 2,206 people across Iraq and Syria - 44% of the total death toll.

  • Bombs accounted for the most deaths, with 1,653 people killed in 241 explosions, including 38 suicide blasts which took 650 lives.

  • 1,574 people were killed in gun attacks, with a further 666 killed in ‘ambush’ attacks, which likely involved small arms.

  • An estimated 426 people were murdered in execution style killings.

The project’s methodology, available in full here, acknowledges the many challenges and difficulties of gathering casualty data in this area, especially in the context of civil wars in Syria and Iraq. These include: difficulty attributing information; patchy, biased or delayed reporting; physical dangers of collecting data which can result in many deaths going unrecorded; and difficulties relating to categorization, counting, verification, and coding of casualty information. 

These challenges are faced by recording organisations around the world, and have been documented in research and reports by Every Casualty over the past several years. In part to help overcome some of these challenges – Every Casualty is currently in the final stages of a project to develop standards for casualty recording, which can help ensure best practice and the production of high quality data. 

Screen shot of BBC data showing breakdown of casualty data from Iraq for November 2014. Photo: BBC World.

Casualty data, such as that reported on by the BBC and collected by casualty recorders around the world, can help provide the basis for developing an in-depth understanding of the human cost of conflict. Not only is recording a key aspect of any effort to critically analyse the effects of particular groups, weapons, or military tactics (as has been shown in reports on explosive weapons, here or military tactics in Afghanistan, here) it also provides essential evidence for transitional justice procedures, as well as the basis for memorialisation efforts. 

Perhaps most importantly, creating such a record demonstrates a respect for human dignity, supports the rights of victims and their families, and, as Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon noted on this year’s Human Rights Day, ‘provides a vital safeguard against the recurrence of abuse’. 

To view the full results of BBC’s recording effort, Global Jihad: Counting the Cost, click here

To learn more about the organisations working every day to record conflict casualties around the world, click here