by and for citizen investigative journalists

Inghimasi – The Secret ISIS Tactic Designed for the Digital Age

December 1, 2016

By Cameron Colquhoun

Translations: Русский

  • ISIS have successfully adopted a little known Al-Qa’eda / Al-Nusra tactic known as Inghimasi.
  • In a switch from the suicide bombing terrorism of the 2000’s, Inghimasiyun deliberately aim to stay alive, killing their enemies with firearms before having the option to detonate their vests when overwhelmed
  • Evidence the tactic has been exported to North Africa and Europe, in the form of attacks against Westerners in Tunisia, Libya and France
  • Ideal for the social media age as a long-running Inghimasi siege holds media attention for hours or days.

Ten centuries ago, in approximately 1080, a new terrorist tactic shook the Middle East. The Nizari, a small conservative sect, began assassinating political figures to grow their own movement. Over 300 years, the Nizari killed hundreds of opponents, including two Caliphs, and prominent sultans and crusaders.

A thousand years later, suicide bombing became the terrorist tactic du jour. On foot or in vehicles, these willing martyrs have wreaked havoc on thousands of civilian lives. Killing civilians for political gain is an adaptation of the Nizari methodology, and societies around the world continue to be haunted by the prospect of mass-casualty suicide bombings.

However – using in depth Open Source Intelligence analysis on ISIS – we can explore a subtle, but significant evolution in terrorist attacks that has taken place over the last five years – an evolution that has consequences for the counter-terrorism world. Terrorist groups (including, but not limited to, ISIS) are increasingly using the little-known concept of Inghimasi to capitalise on the instantaneous, digital culture of today. If suicide bombing was made for the television age, one might say Inghimasi operations are made for the digital age.

What is an Inghimasi?

The concept of Inghimasi refers to a special-forces style suicide fighter who carries both small arms and explosives. He initially uses his light weapons while wearing an explosive belt that is activated only when he runs out of ammunition or when he feels threatened or trapped. The Inghimasiun essentially act as ‘shock troops’, aiming to soften the defences of their military or civilian targets.

On the battelfields of the Middle East, Inghimasi are deployed to storm enemy’s strategic positions or defensive lines, softening fortified positions for second and third waves of forces. Inghimasi also cover the retreat of other troops. French media reported that in the battle of Kudilah (Iraq), 7 Inghimasi fighters set off their explosives with the purpose of covering the retreat of other fighters. Though they are sometimes used in larger numbers, most Inghimasi teams employed by ISIS appear to be relatively small.

Their tactics include wearing similar clothing to that of the enemy, shaving their beards and hair if necessary – taking advantage of the chaos created and inflicting maximum amounts of damage. They are free to determine the use of weapons and explosives according to their needs on the battlefield. They also choose whether they set their explosives off or not, as long as they do not return without achieving the desired goal.

Origins of the Inghimasi

The term Inghimasi started appearing in Arabic media from 2013; however, its use on social media originates to 2011. Arabic media reports that ISIS borrowed the concept of Inghimasi from Al-Qaeda who are largely believed to have introduced it to the Jihadi world. The term appeared with the creation of Al-Qaeda’s Syrian and Iraqi branch when it was used to describe its fighters in Iraq. Its use later expanded to Syria with the creation of Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups, such as Jabat al-Nusra, in battles against the Syrian Army. It is used by a number of groups, most significantly ISIS, but also Jabat al-Nusra and other jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq.

Stemming from the Arabic verb Inghamasa (انغمس) meaning ‘to plunge’ or ‘to become immersed’, an Inghimasi agrees to a ‘no-return’ operation if the circumstances dictate so. The main goal is to plunge into enemy forces with the purpose of inflicting the highest amount of damage.

The concept is present on a number of Al-Qaeda affiliated websites and in news related to operations carried out by its cells and aligned groups. Inghimasi are still used by al-Nusra and other groups, such as Ahrar As-Sham and Junud Al-Aqsa, as portrayed by a joint operation in late 2015 in Kefraya and Al-Fuaa, located in north-east Idlib, Syria.

An Al-Qaeda related page reportedly defines the Inghimasi fighters as ‘those who immerse themselves (in the ranks of the) enemy during the battle, to sacrifice themselves and open the doors of victory for their Mujahideen brothers’. Inghimasi is a formal fighting category within ISIS. The forms that new ISIS recruits are required to fill in are reported to give them the option of choosing between being a normal fighter, a suicide bomber (Istishhadi) or an Inghimasi.

On social media, Inghimasi operations attract considerable admiration and praise from supporters. The Inghimasi is described by some as ‘a solitary wolf, a person who makes a courageous decision and implements it on the ground’. Others claim that Inghimasi fighters choose these operations so that they can be among those who ‘roll around in the highest rooms of paradise’.

Tactics

Inghimasi fighters often work together with suicide bombers (Istishhadiun). Nevertheless, the tactics employed by the two differ. The Inghimasiyun often operate in a group and are usually on foot, armed with light weapons and grenades, while Istishhadiun are usually believed to operate alone in vehicles packed with explosives.

Inghimasi and the battlefields of the Middle East

After taking the concept of Inghimasi from Al-Qa’ida and Al-Nusra, ISIS have deployed Inghimasi attacks on the battlefields of Iraq, Syria and Libya, with considerable success. In Libya, ‘The Martyr Abu Anas Al-Liby Operation’, as named by the media office of Wilayat Tarablous, (the Corinthia Hotel attack in Tripoli), was an Inghimasi operation. The attackers first opened fire in the lobby of the hotel, killing a number of Libyans and foreigners. ISIS’ Libyan branch confirmed that this was an Inghimasi operation.

ISIS Inghimasi attacks are conducted in Libya both against non-military targets and against other militias and security forces. In March 2016, the group launched an attack in the Oboukran area, west of Sirte, against a number of militias belonging to Fajr Libya, killing four guards and injuring eight others. The group’s official statement also claimed that its Inghimasyun managed to destroy a large quantity of equipment, as well as seizing an armed vehicle. The attack was depicted as retaliation for the bombing of Sirte that took place a few days before. A video posted on Youtube claims to have captured the moment of an Inghimasi explosion in Oubokran though it could not be independently verified.

Syria

Some of ISIS’ major victories in Syria involved a mixture of Inghimasi, car-bombs, and heavy gunfire from a number of directions. This combination of tactics led to the group capturing three Syrian army bases in Ar-Raqqa province and has also been employed in other instances, such as against Syrian military targets in Deir Ez-Zor.

ISIS has also launched Inghimasi operations against Kurdish fighters in Northern Raqqa (in the city of Tell Abyad), in February 2016, as well as against other Kurdish units fighting south of Hassakah, in May 2016. In April 2016, an ISIS Inghimasi attack took place in the northern countryside of Aleppo, against a military operations centre. According to the official statement released by the group, only one Inghimasi was killed while the rest returned ‘unharmed’. This clearly demonstrates that once the objectives have been accomplished, the Inghimasi can return to base.

ISIS document featuring Inghimasi as a fighting category

ISIS document featuring Inghimasi as a fighting category

Iraq

The use of such attacks is also prominent in Iraq. An ISIS directive, attributed to its Aleppo branch and posted online, calls for the mobilisation of ISIS Syrian fighters to support its battles in Iraqi provinces. It specifically requested suicide fighters (Inghimasyiun) and suicide bombers.

Moreover, ISIS launched an Inghimasi operation against Ayn Al-Asad base, located in the western province of Al-Anbar, close to Haditha. The base hosts both Iraqi and US troops. The official statement released by ISIS praised the success of the attack against the base, home to both ‘crusaders and rafida[1]’. It claimed that the attack resulted in burning of a helicopter and ‘the death of a number of apostates including a Major’. While praising the operation, the statement also clarifies that the Inghimasiyun ‘set off their explosive belts in the midst of the Mushrikeen’, after they ran out of ammunition, so that they can kill an (additional) number of them’. This clearly exemplifies the Inghimasi tactic, aimed at inflicting the maximum amount of damage.

3 4

In early 2016, another ISIS Inghimasi operation took place at Camp Speicher (Tikrit Air Academy), north of the Iraqi city of Tikrit. According to the official statement, the 7 Inghimasiyun detonated their suicide belts after they engaged in combat using small arms and hand grenades for four hours. This resulted in killing and injuring dozens of personnel of the ‘Ar-Rafadi’ Army. ISIS circulated pictures online claiming to show the Inghimasi fighters involved in the attack and their preparation before the attack.

5

Other ISIS Inghimasi attacks include one in Al-Karmah, east of Fallujah, and Abu Ghrayb, when 250 ISIS fighters, including 30 Inghimasiyun, stormed the two areas.

Taking Inghimasi to Europe

As we posted to Bellingcat earlier this year, a group of Syria-based Libyan fighters known as Katibat al-Battar began to mix with French and Belgian fighters, exporting the concept of Inghimasi to North Africa and Europe.  The Inghimasi reached Europe, in the form of the Paris terrorist attacks, in November 2015. The variety of the attacks – shootings, suicide vests, and hostage taking, point to an advancement in ISIS planning and tactics. At the Bataclan theatre, Sami Amimour, Omar Ismail Mustefai and Fouad Mohamed Aggad conducted an Inghimasi-style operation, shooting their hostages before blowing themselves up.

French media reported that two of the ISIS terrorists at Bataclan were not there with the primary intention to die. One was reportedly shot by the police before activating his explosive belt; while the other initially tried to hide before setting off his explosives, choosing to die rather than surrender.

In the text released by ISIS, claiming responsibility for the Paris attacks, the word Inghimasi is not specifically employed. However, it reads ‘Allah helped our brothers and gave them what they wished for (martyrdom), they triggered their belts in the midst of these kufaar after they exhausted their ammunition’.

It is the first time ISIS used this modus operandi, combining weapons and suicide vests, on French soil. Some months later, In June 2016, ISIS fighters stormed the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul (see picture below). The fighters again initially used small arms before detonating their vests. Turkey claimed to have evidence of high-level input from ISIS leadership, which, if true, again strengthens the suggestion that  Inghimasi tactics have been adopted by the group for high profile overseas operations. Though ISIS has not officially claimed responsibility for the attack, the modus operandi resembles that used by the group in other Inghimasi attacks.

CCTV Images from the Istanbul Airport Attack – Firearms, then vest detonation.

CCTV Images from the Istanbul Airport Attack – Firearms, then vest detonation.

Conclusion

There are three obvious conclusions from this age of Inghimasi terrorism:

  1. Whilst suicide bombings have instant impact, the attack is over quickly; and media attention focuses on the aftermath. In an Inghimasi operation, taking hostages, and armed with suicide vests, Inghimasi operations hold the attention of the media giving the public an opportunity to share content online, and for the Inghimasi, this extra time allows them to inflict even more casualties – killing dozens with small arms fire before detonating their suicide vests – as was witnessed at the Bataclan theatre in Paris, the Bardot museum attack in Tunisia and the Istanbul airport attack.
  2. The growing popularity of Inghimasi style operations has lowered the entry-level for jihadists in Europe and North America. It is far easier to acquire a weapon than it is to make a powerful, concealed explosive device. Unfortunately, this means attacks are more likely to happen, more often.
  3. Inghimasi attacks necessitate different preparations and responses from police and the intelligence agencies. As the attackers seek to stay alive for as long as possible, they will seek to target large crowds with firearms, take hostages to a secure location, and once approached, detonate suicide vests. Unless the attackers are apprehended or killed in the firearms stage, it is unlikely that the police can prevent the deaths of scores of hostages, as was seen in the Paris Kosher Supermarket siege and of course the Bataclan.

Terrorism will continue to evolve, and the Inghimasi attack is only the latest iteration in a story going back thousands of years. What will come next? The advent of live-streaming services (Facebook Live, Periscope) is of growing concern: one of the Charlie Hebdo Paris attackers live-streamed his attack on Facebook Live. Like the Inghimasi capitalising on social media coverage, and instantaneous photographs/videos, it is inevitable that terrorist groups will successfully harness this technology to extend their reach into the consciousness of their enemies.

1] Rejectionists; term employed to refer to those who, according to the speaker, ‘reject’ the legitimate Islamic authority

Cameron Colquhoun

Cameron Colquhoun is the Managing Director of Neon Century, a corporate intelligence consultancy based in London who apply cutting-edge open-source intelligence capabilities to conduct ethical investigations for our clients around geopolitical, commercial and cyber risks.

16 Comments

  1. nyolci

    Sorry guys, this is nothing new and again, frankly BS.

    Regarding terror attacks, there’s nothing new in this, and nothing Islamic. Long standoffs with suicide vests or explosive packs (either on the attackers or on hostages) have been commonplace (even pictured in films like Speed in the 90s), together with the intent to have an impact on consciousness via press. Beslan and the East/West theatre standoff were also of this kind.

    Your ahistoric starting example also falls short, there are numerous examples of fanatical attackers and special forces like attacks in history, every ruler has feared them, and this is the reason why they were always surrounded by at least a squad sized entourage, which could easily neutralize a few ninjas in normal circumstances.

    As a battlefield tactic, perhaps you have some merit in the sense that these are “mission: impossible” type attacks where the perpetrators are consciously prepared for self sacrifice, and thus they can overcome even very strong defenses and thus they are considered very fearful enemies but this is hardly a new “tactic”, and many armies have had the reputation (sometimes as propaganda) that they don’t fear death, the Japanese comes to my mind now.

    Also, suicide vests in actual tactical combat can be very cumbersome, they are bulky and even schrapnel or a ricocheted bullet can set them off, so as a mean of an implementation in real tactical setting is very questionable.

    So, as for this “Inghi-whatever” being some kind of a thing with its own life (an actual “entity”) looks very questionable to me apart from the fanatical, kamikaze like aspects. Funny, how often propaganda produces this kind of BS. The “barrel bombs” come into my mind, a real non-entity that is talked about endlessly.

    Reply
    • Mad Dog

      He never said anything about all this being new nor was the post directed to just suicide bombers, The crux of the article was the presence of a back door, i.e that the bombers were not always there with the express intent to die, as at Bataclan. Further, you really use this BS to describe anything here so often it is really meaningless, i.e. it is BS.

      Reply
      • nyolci

        “He never said anything about all this being new ”
        It was presented as “little known Al-Qa’eda / Al-Nusra tactic”, that is quite new to ISIS. I argued that this is not little known (“new”) and not really a tactic.
        “nor was the post directed to just suicide bombers, The crux of the article was the presence of a back door”
        Hm, have you read my post?

        Reply
    • Paul

      This article does not imply this is a new tactic, merely highlighting the fact that the simplest suicide bomber attacks have evolved into a combined approach in that specific region. As a battlefield tactic, it is again relatively new to the Syrian-Iraq theater.

      The suicide vests, made of plastic explosives, can not be set off by physical impact, they require a detonator charge. And they are as bulky as say a fully loaded Interceptor vest with gear and ammo. So, a bit cumbersome, but a trained man can cope with that.

      Beslan and Nord-West attacks were different because these were mass hostage situations, with suicide fighters guarding buildings full of people. Inghimasi, on the other hand, concentrate on massacring as many people as possible with small arms and then retreating or blowing themselves up. So they do require a different response from law enforcement, it is preferable to engage and neutralize an Inghimasi ASAP, while in a hostage situation you can at least expect to set up a siege and plan the operation.

      Reply
      • nyolci

        “As a battlefield tactic, it is again relatively new to the Syrian-Iraq theater.”
        So “new” anyway. Cos it was “little known” before, etcetc.
        “The suicide vests, made of plastic explosives, can not be set off by physical impact, ”
        Yes, when they use plastic. I suppose they use what is at hand. I have seen propaganda videos when they opened up old artillery shells to get the explosives, for example.
        “concentrate on massacring as many people as possible”
        Aha, now I know. This is really something new. I haven’t seen this before, you’re right (Just kidding 🙂 )
        Anyway, what is relevant here is not the (quite sporadic) terrorist attacks (which only have the connection to the ISIS as a declaration anyway) but the battlefield tactic. Their signature is their fanaticism, Nusra didn’t allowed retreat for example, and they could mount suicide missions deep in the rear of the enemy, but this wasn’t “little known” or hardly new, but a signature anyway. The Viet Cong did the same, with very demoralizing effect on the US soldiers. The vehicle suicide bombings are another signature of these Western supported terror groups ‘cos they have no air force nor _good_ heavy artillery. Sometimes the Western air forces act as their air forces (like in Libya and Deir ez-Zor is a prominent example as well), but otherwise they have to blow themselves up to get through heavily defended checkpoints.

        Again, this article is quite convoluted and try to give an impression that there is something more in this stuff than fairly normal suicide missions.

        Reply
      • nyolci

        “made of plastic explosives, can not be set off by physical impact”
        Actually, I can remember that in an incident (in Iraq, I think) US soldiers could detonate a suicide vest with shots from an assault rifle, thus stopping the attack. And anyway, the detonator is producing a very strong, point-like physical impact 🙂

        Reply
  2. Agtour

    Albeit you wrote a great number of well-researched and well thought-out pieces, this isn’t one of them.

    The main issue here is that you actually know nothing about the orders given to the perps. And for this reason the article is nothing more than an extrapolation of events known to you.

    But if you take into consideration how the Mumbai or the Paris attacks took place it becomes clear that there was a serious command & control element. And if so you just can not rule out that no single terrorist ‘had an option’ what to do or what not to do.

    Reply
  3. stranger

    The next will be a dirty bomb and a nuclear bomb in the hands of terrorists, obviously.

    The tactic of suicide belts combined with regular weapon is not new at all. During the hostages capture at Dubrovka theater in Moscow in 2002, the Chechen terrorists were armed with Kalashnikovs and wore suicide belts including women terrorists who wore just suicide belts and the planting of larger bombs over the theater hall. The similar tactic was used at a school in Beslan. Just suicide belts were used very widely in multiple terracts on public places from 1998 to 2010 in Moscow and other cities.

    The western media closed the eyes on terracts in Moscow and called it the just fighting of noble Chechen warriors for their freedom. Now those noble warriors for freedom have come to your cities, why don’t you welcome them in the same way? Strange…

    Reply
    • Mad Dog

      You are really wrong there. The press at the time did nothing of the sort. All of those acts were covered by the Western media, but there were of course voices calling into question the tactics of the FSB to free the hostages. That is possible when you have a really free media, not one basically controlled by the government. No reputable media outlet welcomed any of those terrorist acts.

      Reply
      • stranger

        No, you are wrong by all points here. There were different voices of course. But mostly the majority of teracts was just ignored by the western media. Others loud teracts like Beslan and Dubrovka, the bloody raids of Basaev, and others, were explained like “Chechens fighting against ‘Russian suppression’ were left no other way but terror”. For all casualties during the hostages release and teracts, Russian authorities were blamed. Every loud teracts were used as an excuse to kick Russian government and Putin. All responsibility was taken away from Chechens, their teracts were actually justified.
        The presentation of teracts in Russia by the western press was very different from teracts in the States and Europe, where nobody tried to justify terrorism. And you know how much both the States and Europe suffered from Jihadists.
        The west is playing with terrorists in other countries using them as a tool against the foreign governments, and then this boomerang returns to the west as teracts. Then everybody declares how the are determined to fight terrorism, and continue to support them in other countries.
        That is very similar to the disinformation and lies during Ukrainian conflict, very similar to how the press presents Assad and anti-Assad crowd in Syria.
        Carter Paige, the assistance of Trump stated that, the level of disinformation, based on which Obama’s administration took the decisions on Crimea and Ukraine, was catastrophic. That was really so.
        In some sense history is repeating itself. We have seen that approach already for Chechnya and others. That’s why I’m very sceptical on what we hear about Syria now.
        Your other point is also wrong. Just because mass media doesn’t belong to the government, but to the private hands, doesn’t means they are not lobbying the interests of those private owners and their auditorium niches they earn from and doesn’t mean they are independend and objective.

        Reply
  4. Lewis

    Well written article, but it’s hardly a new devastating tactic. In fact it’s been used in contemporary times in Kashmir and since 2007, by the Taliban (in their so called Complex Attacks).

    The real danger is that this coincides with a weapons supply chain into Europe proper (like we saw in Paris) and becomes the M.O of choice and availability.

    Reply
  5. flavius

    Thanks a lot, for some it might be nothing new, I found it quite interesting. I hope to see more of this in the blog. Great work!

    Reply
  6. Mansolarys

    Informative piece. I’m not going to quibble about the ‘originality’ of suicider tactics, except to say that the ‘ìnghamási’ (‘ànghmásy’ in Persian and ‘àngmása’ in Arabic) have their cognates in almost every nation’s history. Call them what you will – enfants perdu, verlorenehäufen, the forlorn – suicide troops are part and parcel of human history.

    Also, suicide vests originated not in the Middle East but in a battlefield far away: they were first deployed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)