A compilation of videotaped confessions by Hamas militants released this week by Israeli officials largely follows the same pattern. All of the men are seated and handcuffed as they recount — calmly and matter-of-factly — how they helped carry out the Oct. 7 terrorist attack in Israel that killed more than 1,000 civilians, including women, children and the elderly.
The interviews, each filmed individually and compiled into a grim, 12-minute clip reel, were released by Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security service. They were part of a range of materials released by Israeli officials this week that appeared to be designed to remind the world of the savagery of the terrorist attacks.
One of their other apparent goals, according to experts, was to show the cruelty and cynicism of Hamas leaders and to rebut the group’s claim that it does not intentionally target civilians. The release of the confessions also appeared to be an effort to show Palestinians that Hamas commanders had manipulated their members and then abandoned them.
One of the militants interviewed in the videos said that Hamas leaders promised him a cash bounty for every hostage he brought back to Gaza. “Whoever kidnaps a hostage and brings them to Gaza gets a stipend … an apartment and $10,000,” said the man, who added that Hamas promised to pay him in U.S. currency.
NBC News was not given access to unedited videos of the interviews by Israeli officials and could not independently verify the accounts or claims of the six men. Israeli officials said the men were not coerced into speaking or abused.
The militant who described the cash payment for hostages also said that his commander criticized him for shooting a woman who was already dead. “[He said] ‘Why did you shoot? You’re wasting your bullets,’” he said.
Some of the militants appeared to be low-level fighters while two others said they were group leaders. Two of them expressed anger at Hamas leaders who they said had sent them into Israel and abandoned them.
NBC News shared the video with experts who have experience interviewing terrorists. They said that the mens’ matter-of-fact descriptions of executing civilians did not surprise them.
“I did interrogations on target and off target in both Iraq and Afghanistan, when we were embedded with special operation forces,” said Rob D’Amico who worked on counterterrorism at the FBI is now a principal at Sierra One Consulting. “It reminded me of how people could talk about killing other people in such a calm manner.”
D’Amico noted it did not appear that the men had been trained to evade questions during an interrogation. “It’s not like you’re talking to a suspected Russian KGB agent who has been through a lot of training on how to get interrogated and how to not give information away until it’s absolutely likely necessary, and it’s not good anymore,” D’Amico said.
Former FBI agent Stephanie Douglas said the men were admitting to acts that had obviously taken place, some of them caught on camera by Hamas’ own body cameras.
“They admitted to killing civilians, setting fires and having hostages taken. So that is something that’s already very, very obvious,” said Douglas, who is now president of national security practice at Guidepost Solutions.
According to Douglas, Shin Bet would want to know the names and locations of the commanders and how they are communicating with others to understand the command structure.
“I’m sure there are a lot of other questions that are not being captured on this tape that they’re being asked.”
Toward the end of the compilation the men are asked if killing women and children is allowed in Islam. They all answered no. The interrogators also asked if their actions were akin to those of the Islamic State terrorist group. All of the men answered yes.
Douglas said the video was also meant to send a message to Hamas members in Gaza. “They’re doing this to put it on video. I think the whole ISIS and Hamas, equating those two organizations, is a good takeaway for Israel,” Douglas said, adding that other Hamas members are likely included in the target audience.
“[Israel wants] them to know this is what’s happening. These are all your buddies that didn’t make it back to Gaza,” she said. “And they’ve been abandoned.”