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