The suicide car bomb, more accurately referred to as the suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (SVBIED), is an extremely powerful and versatile weapon — and one that played a central role in ISIS’s rise to power. The group’s use of a fleet of SVBIEDs was key to its rapid territorial expansion in Syria and Iraq in 2013-14. They served as powerful force multipliers, giving the numerically inferior insurgents the ability to deliver tons of explosives to designated targets. SVBIEDs were used tactically to punch holes in static defenses, allowing for follow-up ground attacks that would regularly overrun larger enemy positions. Additionally, they also had a psychological effect, demoralizing their targets while buoying the spirits of fellow ISIS fighters to continue fighting.
Now, more than four years later, ISIS’s territorial caliphate has been destroyed, as the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) prized free the group’s hold on the last few villages in the Hajin pocket along the Euphrates River in Syria, close to the Iraqi border, in March 2019.
This case study focuses on how ISIS developed an array of different SVBIED designs to suit a variety of operational environments. It will also examine how ISIS has shared information about SVBIED designs across provinces to facilitate their development, as well as how these designs are spreading to its satellite provinces around the world.