Syrian jihadists' new recruitment technique: slick suicide attack videos

 Suicide attacks have been used as a war tactic for decades. However, in Syria, jihadists are also using suicide attacks as a recruitment tool by producing polished propaganda videos of the attacks, intended for online consumption. 


Screenshot from a video of an explosion following a suicide attack at a Syrian army checkpoint in the Qalamoun region.


Suicide attacks have been used as a war tactic for decades. In Syria, however, jihadists are putting slick propaganda videos of the attacks online, in a bid to attract further recruits.




The jihadist groups active in Syria, especially those affiliated with or close to Al Qaeda, now film their entire suicide attacks from beginning to end. The kamikazes are told to remain on the phone with their leader until the very last moment, when they hit the detonator button. The goal appears to be to make the videos as poignant and affecting as possible, in order to galvanize Muslim youths and recruit them to their cause.


For example: the video below shows a kamikaze learning how to drive BMP-1 armoured personnel carriers, seized from the regular army, which will then be mounted with explosives. At 13 minutes and 42 seconds, an enormous explosion takes place, destroying an entire building. A striking aspect of this video is that it shows reactions of what appear to be local residents (from the 14’59 mark to the 16’50 mark). These residents thank the Al Nusra Front, a jihadist group tied to Al Qaeda, for this attack that “got rid of the Tomeh checkpoint, which was making life impossible”.


Video showing the attack on the Tomeh checkpoint. 


This next video tracks the journey of a booby-trapped vehicle toward its target. A Syrian kamikaze can be seen driving the vehicle, from the 4’20 mark all the way to the moment of the explosion at 4’41.


An attack against a building occupied by pro-Assad Syrian and Palestinian militias.


Another video (below) shows an Al Nusra Front attack against a Syrian army checkpoint at the entrance of the Christian village of Maaloula. The video shows the preliminary preparations, interviews with the Jordanian kamikaze, a farewell scene, and then footage of the attack itself. It features the radio conversation between the kamikaze and those leading him remotely, starting at the 15’32 mark. At 16’08, a voice asks the kamikaze to “slow down to about 20-30 km/hour because a civilian car is stopped at the barricade” and that “we must preserve the blood of Muslims”. The explosion occurs at 16’57.


Video of the Al Nusra Front’s suicide attack against the Syrian army checkpoint at the entrance of Maaloula, a Christian village.


In the final video (below), the kamikazes remain in communication with their team until the final moment right before the explosion. The conversation is clearly recorded in order to be shared online later. Twice, at 12’50 and 14’18, the kamikazes (two per car) are even instructed to “remain on the phone”. At the 15’12 mark, the driver of the first car states he has arrived at the Syrian army checkpoint. He can be heard saying “Good day, colleagues” to the Syrian soldiers manning the checkpoint, which amuses the men who are listening in remotely. A few seconds later, the first explosion goes off. The leaders of the first attack then instruct the kamikazes in the second car to “not disappoint their brothers”. At the 17’01 mark, the second explosion occurs.


Video of Nabak’s suicide attack, perpetrated by the Green Unit in the Qalamoun region, presented as “revenge against the chemical attacks”.

“The next step is to tell the personal story of each kamikaze”

Mohamad, the leader of a rebel unit closely linked to the Al Nusra Front, explained his group’s communication strategy to FRANCE 24. His comments show that these suicide bombing attacks are indeed elaborately scripted. Aside from taking out military targets, these attacks are also used as propaganda tools.


Today, the Al Nusra Front is trying to recruit as many fighters as possible through these videos. They are destined primarily for young Arabs. They show our compatriots that these youths, who come from all over the world, are not stupid or crazy, but that they are actually just like them. Such footage is also a way of competing against the Islamic State of Iraq [another jihadist group present in Syria], which attracts more foreign jihadists.


It’s also a means for us to claim our attacks, because the regime itself also orchestrates attacks, which it then tries to blame on us. We want to show that the Al Nusra Front is trying to avoid civilian casualties as much as possible, a concern that is evidenced in several of these videos.


I personally knew Abou Jafar “the Tunisian”, who is featured in the latest Green Unit video [Editor’s note: the video above]. He is a young man who studied in France and then lived for six years in Spain. We fought side by side during battles. He is in no way crazy.


We are always trying to improve our videos. We are currently thinking of including the personal stories of the kamikazes themselves.


Suicide attacks, described by military experts as “the weak man’s weapon”, have become a common strategy for jihadists in Syria, but they have long been carried out by Afghan, Lebanese, and Iraqi fighters. This type of attack can be found in most so-called asymmetrical conflicts. As far back as World War II, Japanese pilots gained notoriety for crashing their planes into American navy warships.

Post written in collaboration with FRANCE 24 journalist Wassim Nasr (@SimNasr).