Inghimasi – The secret ISIS tactic designed for the digital age

    • 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.


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    Evarist Chahali

    Evarist Chahali

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