Inghimasi Fighters: Terrorist Organizations Return to Previous Modus Operandi

Future for Advanced Research and Studies

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Inghimasi Fighters: Terrorist Organizations Return to Previous Modus Operandi

The phenomenon of the so-called "inghimasi" fighters - raiders who plunge into enemy front lines to inflict the maximum number of casualties with no plan of returning alive - has become increasingly evident among terrorist organizations in some Middle East states such as Syria and Iraq. Inghimasi recently became the most widely used term, due, in particular, to the increased reliance on the tactic in ongoing battles in the two states as well as other terrorist attacks. 

On March 20, 2017, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that some terrorist organizations and armed factions used inghimasi fighters in battles with Syrian regime forces and allied militias in the Jobar district in eastern Damascus where inghimasi fighters were able to fight their way into the Abbasiyin bus station. This development can potentially improve the capabilities of involved organizations in the coming period, not only to move closer to the center of the Syrian capital, but also to connect the isolated enclave of Qaboun with the larger swath of territory they control east of the city. 

Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (Organization for the Liberation of the Levant,) an alliance of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and smaller factions, used inghimasi fighters in a series of attacks on February 25, 2017 on the regime’s military installations in Homs that killed 42 troops, including the army's intelligence chief in Homs, Brigadier Hassan Daaboul. Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham noted, “only five inghimasi fighters stormed the headquarters of state security and military intelligence”.

The escalating military operations conducted by parties involved in the war on ISIS and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly known as al-Nusra Front) will prompt the latter to rely on this tactic. 

Renewed Strategy

Without a doubt, the phenomenon of inghimasi is not a new one. It first emerged in what some call the contemporary era of jihad during the Soviet–Afghan War. Most importantly, Al-Qaeda sought to use the tactic to carry out qualitative terrorist operations. Some of its commanders - most notably Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader and founder of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, described by the organization’s members as a source of inspiration for inghimasi fighters- wanted to train fighters on the tactic.

Inghimasi fighters stand out in armed terrorist formations and constitute one of the most effective tactics used by organizations in battles against enemies, especially attacks on command centers, front lines and fortifications during confrontations. However, what should be noted is that these organizations started to use the tactic to propagandize their activities and their ability to expand their control in areas they hold.

Different Approaches

Attempts to identify the features of the inghimasi tactic rely on multiple variables including the appearance, physical build and weaponry of the inghimasi fighters. However, there is no single exhaustive or comprehensive definition, where inghimasi fighters are not required to conclude their mission with a suicide operation as a prerequisite. In some cases, inghimasi fighters may seek to disguise themselves as their enemies in order to get behind enemy lines and successfully target them.

One approach to the phenomenon produced some definitions that identified the size, shape and type of their ammunition. According to another approach, inghimasi fighters use heavy weapons in certain operations, contrary to a belief that they mostly use light arms. A third approach, based on terrorist organizations’ publications, sees that there is a lack of clear assessment of the size, shape and type of their gear, because the top priority is to focus attention on the inghimasi fighter’s ability to carry out his mission, regardless of his weaponry.

The main characteristics of inghimasi fighters, in terms of combat qualifications in particular, include being in good physical shape, adequate professional combat skills such as agility, intelligence, shooting, achieving an element of surprise in carrying out complex operations, unwavering obedience to orders from the organization’s leaders and the ability to pass several tests prior to missions.  

Inflicting the greatest number of causalities on the enemy is the most important feature of inghimasi fighters. This has prompted terrorist organization to rely more on the tactic recently. This is evidenced in attacks carried out by ISIS since early 2016, when their traditional tactic of bombings (either through IEDs or suicide bombings) was replaced using inghimasi fighters. A good instance of this was the attacks that hit the Iraqi capital of Baghdad on 11 January, 2016 killing and injuring about 70 people. 

Multiple Differences

It should be noted that published literature of terrorist organizations reveals their keen interest in drawing a distinction between inghimasi fighters and suicide bombers. While both types of fighters enjoy high esteem within these organizations, inghimasi fighters are considered to be of greater importance than suicide bombers. This is because inghimasi fighters are expected to fight a battle during which they have to secure multiple objectives, such as inflicting a large number of casualties, before concluding the fight by detonating an explosive vest, if they deem it necessary. On the other hand, a suicide bomber’s mission focuses on detonating themselves in large gatherings to inflict as many casualties as possible, and are therefore not required to possess the same physical or combat capabilities as inghimasi fighters. This led several experts to stress that every inghimasi is a suicide bomber and not vice-versa.

The intensity of inghimasi terrorist attacks in Iraq and Syria since 2012 has been escalating to reach a peak within the past two years. According to ISIS' Amaq News Agency, inghimasi battalions carried out between 50-60 attacks each month in the first quarter of 2017, compared to a monthly average of 80-100 attacks in 2016. The majority of these attacks took place in Syria and targeted checkpoints manned by the group's rivals, including the Assad regime and allied militias. 

What stands out in this regard is that terrorist organizations now use the inghimasi tactic to counter not only their enemies, but also in armed confrontations with each other. For instance, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham carried out an inghimasi attack against members of the Liwa Shuhada al-Yarmouk (The Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade) that had pledged allegiance to ISIS. The September 2015 attack was during a meeting of the commanders of the Liwa Shuhada al-Yarmouk in west Daraa in southern Syria, and was a response from Jabhet Fateh al-Sham to an inghimasi attack that was carried out earlier by an ISIS fighter.

In light of the above, it is highly possible that terrorist organizations will begin to rely more on the inghimasi tactic due to pressures from the escalating military operations conducted by the various parties fighting terrorism in the region.

Keywords: Terrorism

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