What do suicide attacks look like globally?

France and Lebanon have recently experienced the horror and tragedy of terror attacks , but on the world stage, it seems that people are grieving for Paris while Beirut picks up the pieces. Sarah Jameel wrote a piece that describes the tragedy on the ground from her home country, Sri Lanka, with the message that every life matters. Since 1982, 1,584 people have lost their lives to suicide attacks in Sri Lanka — and that’s not counting the injured or other terrorist attacks.

It made me wonder, what does the history of suicide attacks look like and how are they distributed around the globe? The Washington Post wrote an article about this with data from the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism. I wanted to expand on their visualizations and see what else we could learn about the distribution of these horrific attacks.


Click here for an interactive version of this graph.

It’s no surprise to anyone that the Middle East suffers the most from these attacks. Since 2005, there have been at least 200 suicide attacks in the region per year with a terrible peak of almost 500 in 2007. Africa has seen a jump as well in the recent years, with Nigeria and Somalia contributing a high number of them. The Americas barely register on the map in comparison, as the Chicago Project has labeled a grand total of 4 incidents since 1982. Of course, one of those incidents on September 11th killed 3,000 individuals, so let’s look at the number of casualties over time by region.

Click here for an interactive version of this graph.

Now these numbers give us a more accurate picture as to the true devastation — see how that green line skyrockets up the chart? That’s because there were over 5,000 people killed by suicide attacks in 2007 in the Middle East. And that’s not counting numerous other attacks nor is it counting the number of people injured by these attacks. While Africa has seen a spike in suicide attacks in the recent years, the number of deaths in 2015 is not even half of what the Middle East has seen in the same year. But which countries are bearing the brunt of these attacks?

Click here for an interactive version of this map.

The static version of this map does not do justice to the more than 20,000 people who have been killed by suicide attacks in Iraq, most of whom have died over the past 10 years. The next highest country is Pakistan, with over 6,200 casualties. The US joins in the ranks of countries with the highest number of deaths due to the September 11th attacks — other members of this group include Afghanistan with over 4,700 lives lost and Syria, with over 2,000 lives lost. Even combined, these countries don’t even touch Iraq’s high number.

It’s important to note that this information does not include the latest attacks on Paris or Beirut, nor do they contain terrorist attacks that were not classified as suicide attacks. Still, without these metrics, the death toll stands at 45,835 killed, and 118,001 wounded.

It’s no wonder that Beirut feels overshadowed — these attacks are more common and less surprising to the rest of the world (thus, less newsworthy). Unfortunately, the shock and sadness that we feel for the French coupled with the traumatic aftershock of the survivors, is an all-too-common occurrence in other parts of the world. But every number represents lives lost and communities torn apart. Data, while an indicator of devastation, does not show us the faces of family members or pictures of destroyed buildings. Data does not display the grief that has been released by these vicious attacks nor does it measure the love and support that has swept across the world. As we continue to see death tolls and continue to gather information, we need to remember that each one of those numbers, regardless of the country or region, is a human life that should be remembered and mourned in the wake of tragedy.