WASHINGTON – Suicide bombers conducted 658 attacks around the world last year, including 542 in U.S.-occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, according to data compiled by U.S. government experts.
The large number of attacks – more than double the number in any of the past 25 years – reflects a trend that has surprised and worried U.S. intelligence and military analysts.
More than four-fifths of the suicide bombings over that period have occurred in the past seven years, the data show. The bombings have spread to dozens of countries on five continents, killed more than 21,350 people and injured some 50,000 since 1983, when a landmark attack blew up the U.S. Embassy in Beirut.
Today is the 25-year anniversary of that attack, the first of a series of large suicide bombings targeting Americans overseas.
“Increasingly, we are seeing the globalization of suicide bombs, no longer confined to conflict zones but happening anywhere,” said Mohammed Hafez, of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., and author of the book “Suicide Bombers in Iraq.” He calls the contemporary perpetrators “martyrs without borders.”
The unpublished data show that since 1983, bombers in more than 50 groups from Argentina to Algeria, Croatia to China, and India to Indonesia have adapted car bombs to make explosive belts, vests, toys, motorcycles, bikes, boats, backpacks and false-pregnancy stomachs.
Of 1,840 incidents in the past 25 years, more than 86 percent have occurred since 2001, and the highest annual numbers have occurred in the past four years. The sources who provided the data to the Washington Post asked that they not be identified because of the sensitivity of the tallies.
The data show more than 920 suicide bombings in Iraq and more than 260 in Afghanistan, including some that killed scores of U.S. troops. All occurred after the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.
The exact number of U.S. casualties from the bombs in Iraq is classified “because it might show the effectiveness of the enemy’s weapon,” said Maj. Brad Leighton, a U.S. spokesman in Iraq. “They won’t even give the number to me.”