FactCheck: who were the victims of the ‘Islamic State’ in 2015? ~ Patrick Worrall, CHANNEL4 NEWS, December 30, 2015.
Channel 4 FactCheck goes behind the spin to dig out the truth and separate political fact from fiction.
The terror attacks on Paris in November led to a huge outpouring of sympathy and solidarity, with cities around the world lighting up landmarks with the Tricolore.
But some suggested that the western media were guilty of ignoring similar atrocities outside Europe, and in particular a double suicide bombing in Beirut the day before.
Reports have in the past suggested that IS kills more Muslims than anyone else, but is that true? What do we know about the victims of the so-called Islamic State group?
The group that calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – also commonly known as Isis, Isil and Daesh – was first formed in April 2013 when an Iraqi Sunni jihadi group announced a merger with the Syrian wing of al-Qaeda.
IS achieved significant success against Iraqi government forces in 2014, rapidly expanding its territory and declaring an Islamic “caliphate”. IS became notorious for publicly beheading enemy prisoners, western journalists, aid workers and others.
The first major IS attack outside the borders of Iraq and Syria may have been the bombings in Reyhanli, Turkey, in May 2013, which claimed at least 51 lives, although other groups have been accused of being the real culprit.
In 2015 alone the group and its affiliates carried out more than 25 bomb and gun attacks in the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and Europe.
In order to get a closer comparison to the events in Paris, we have only included similar kinds of operations – surprise attacks on civilian targets.
We have left out the many occasions when IS: executed civilian captives or military prisoners; killed civilians while carrying out attacks on rival forces in combat zones in Iraq and Syria; killed members of the military and security forces of a number of different countries.
Some 130 died of their injuries following the Paris attacks, bringing the potential number of IS victims to die on French soil in 2015 to 148, including the shootings at the Charlie Hebdo offices and elsewhere in January and the beheading at a gas factory in southeast France in June.
Both IS and Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the January attacks, and while the authorities linked the perpetrator of the beheading at Saint-Quentin-Fallavier to IS, there are unanswered questions about who inspired or planned the atrocities.
If we look at other Paris-style terror attacks this year, we find that the only other European country to be hit was Denmark, where a gunman swearing loyalty to IS killed a documentary maker and a Jewish man.
Yemen has been targeted the most times – with four incidents costing at least 245 lives. On 20 March alone, a string of blasts targeting worshippers at Shia mosques in the capital Sanaa killed 142 people.
Mourners pray during the funeral of a victim of a suicide bombing in Sanaa, Yemen, in March 23
In July, at least 130 people were killed in Baghdad when a suicide car bomb went off in a crowded marketplace.
The IS-linked attack that caused the single biggest loss of life in 2015 was the downing of the Russian airliner over the Sinai peninsula in October.
Russia accepted that the plane was brought down by a bomb after initially resisting the suggestion.
All 224 people on board died, 219 of them Russians, which means Russia has lost more of its citizens in a single IS attack than any other country this year.
In America, a married couple shot 14 people dead in San Bernardino, California. One of the killers, Tashfeen Malik, reportedly swore allegiance to IS in an online post.
Where were the victims from?
It’s hard to be precise about the nationalities of all the victims.
IS attacks have claimed at least 31 British victims so far this year, including the 30 tourists shot by gunmen at a beach resort in Tunisa, and Nick Alexander, the only British victim of the Paris attacks.
But there is limited information about the identities of victims in many other attacks. we don’t know for sure that everyone who died in, say, the Yemen blasts were Yemenis.
But given the numbers of victims in majority-Muslim countries like Yemen and Iraq, it’s almost certain that the majority of civilians killed by IS in Paris-style attacks so far this year have been Muslims living in the Middle East.
How many victims in Iraq and Syria?
How many people in total have been killed by the Islamic State, including all the civilians and combatants in Iraq and Syria? No one knows for sure.
In Iraq, the website Iraq Body Count counted just over 17,000 civilian deaths in the country in the whole of 2014, almost double the total for the previous year. At least 4,325 deaths were attributed to IS. It was impossible to come up with an accurate estimate of deaths of combatants.
Last year the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) estimated that at least 8,493 civilians died in the first eight months of 2014, but it could not say how many were killed by the self-styled Islamic State.
The report made it clear that IS was targeting fellow Sunni Muslims as well as members of the Christian and Yezidi minorities. The group attacked Sunni mosques and shrines as well as Shia and Sufi holy places. It murdered Sunni clerics who refused to swear allegiance.
Figures for deaths in Syria are even harder to gauge.
The UN tells us it has not been in a position to make accurate estimates of deaths for more than a year.
Last month The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than a quarter of a million people had died in Syria since the beginning of the country’s civil war in 2011, which tallies with historic UN estimates.
The death toll includes more than 115,000 civilians. But we don’t know how many were killed by IS.
But if we include the likely numbers of combatants who have died in Iraq and Syria, the thousands of prisoners executed in cold blood, and the attacks on military and security forces in Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia, Muslims form an even bigger proportion of all deaths attributable to IS.