Will ISIS Ever Run Out Of Suicide Bombers?

The number of ISIS suicide attacks in Iraq and Syria surged to record highs in March and the terror group shows no signs of slowing down

Apr 05, 2016 at 5:47 PM ET

Packing powerful explosives, a band of Islamic State fighters fanned out across Iraq on Monday. Their targets were carefully chosen. One suicide bomber detonated himself inside a popular restaurant in the southern province of Dhi Qar, killing at least 14 people. Five more died when a different militant drove a bomb-laden vehicle into a busy section of Basra, an oil-rich city more than 100 miles away. Later, another ISIS fighter struck a security checkpoint in a Baghdad suburb, leaving a half-dozen troops blown to bits.

By Monday evening, at least least 29 people were dead and dozens more injured in the series of attacks. Pieces of flesh and debris littered pavements as black smoke billowed from burnt vehicles, according to reports.

More Under Mounting Pressure, ISIS Resorts To Suicide Attacks

Far-flung yet orchestrated, the most recent wave of ISIS suicide operations marks the continuation of a brutal tactic employed by the terror group with growing frequency across Syria and Iraq. New figures compiled by the Amaq News Agency, an ISIS-linked media organization, show that monthly suicide attacks in the two countries reached a record high of 112 in March, more than four times the 27 attacks tallied last September.

Over the last seven months, these martyr-bound militants have targeted everything from shopping malls to military outposts. Often they have carried out their deadly missions with bombs fixed to their bodies, cars or even bulldozers packed with explosives.

Terrorism analysts tend to attribute the surge in ISIS suicide attacks to a bruising series of setbacks the group has suffered throughout its self-declared caliphate. U.S. military officials say ISIS has slowly relinquished more than 40 percent of the territory it once controlled in Iraq, while some of its most prominent members continue to get picked off in targeted airstrikes. A chronic cash crunch has forced leaders to slash the salaries of its fighters by half. Defections are also reportedly on the rise.

Faced with mounting pressure, the terror group has struck back. “It’s a way to project power, to show yourself to still be relevant and to recruit people,” Mia Bloom, a terrorism researcher at Georgia State University, told Vocativ. 

More ISIS By 2015’s End: Battered, But By No Means Beaten

But the steady uptick in suicide attacks may also signal that ISIS is on the ropes, said Max Abrahms, a political science professor at Northeastern University. “When a terror group gets weaker, it is incentivized to use more violence in the short term,” said Abrahms, whose research has focused on the use of violence by terrorist organizations, including the Islamic State. “Some, including the U.S. military, see ISIS as imploding in Iraq and Syria.” 

Still, ISIS is likely to continue to increase its use of suicide bombers as clashes with Iraqi and Syrian forces intensify, analysts said. After recapturing the ancient city of Palmyra last week, Syrian troops and allied militias have pressed on with an offensive against the terror group, forcing its militants from other strategic strongholds. Meanwhile, Iraqi forces, backed by U.S.-led airstrikes, have launched a long-awaited offensive to wrest the city of Mosul from ISIS control.

“Now would be a good time for ISIS to use its suicide tactics,” said Abrahms, adding: “But the group will not be able to manufacture violence indefinitely.”