Editor's note: This story contains graphic content.
A booklet recovered from the body of a Hamas fighter killed in Israel earlier this month included detailed instructions for operating assault rifles, grenade launchers and explosives. But along with those weapons of war, the pamphlet also listed directions for another key tool used by the militant group: a GoPro camera.
At least a half-dozen of the militants who breached the Gaza border and attacked Israeli communities had cameras strapped to their bodies, in an apparent attempt to collect propaganda material during the incursion. Now, videos from the devices of slain Hamas fighters are being combed through by Israeli first responders and intelligence officials.
The videos, some of which have been posted to social media, provide a harrowing first-person view of the Hamas fighters’ final hours of life, and the death and destruction they caused during their unprecedented assault. They show the slaughter of civilians, indiscriminate shooting in Israeli communities, and the taking of hostages — clear evidence of war crimes that undermines Hamas’ claims that its fighters did not enter Israel with the intent of killing civilians.
“I don’t think Hamas wanted us to see” the videos of attacks on civilians, said Gina Ligon, a counterterrorism expert who analyzed the footage for CNN. “That is not congruent with their narrative that they’re defenders of Palestine — that was terrorism.”
At the same time, the videos also make obvious how unprepared Israel was for the attack, with large groups of Hamas fighters seen breaking through the Gaza border unopposed by the Israeli military.
The clips were posted on the social media website Telegram by South First Responders, an Israeli volunteer group that says its members were among the first to return to communities attacked by Hamas. They said the video came from GoPro-style cameras recovered from dead Hamas fighters.
Analysts at the research groups Bellingcat and the Centre for Information Resilience geolocated several of the videos, and CNN independently confirmed their locations and geolocated additional footage. CNN reviewed dozens of videos and is publishing only snippets of longer footage that illustrate key elements of the attack.
One set of videos shows the full journey of a single Hamas fighter into Israel: from a dramatic early-morning border crossing, to a rampage of violence through an Israeli kibbutz, to his apparent death after being shot by an unknown assailant.
As the sun rises on the morning of October 7, a Hamas fighter is seen handling his body camera as he attaches it to his head, illustrating how he planned to capture the coming attack on video. He and another militant zoom by Gaza farm fields on a motorcycle, holding a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.
The fighters cross the Gaza border into Israel, walking and pulling motorcycles through an opening in a border wall and a hole in the fence. Based on the position of the sun, this group of militants crossed the border at around 7 a.m., according to an analysis by Bellingcat that CNN independently confirmed. The video shows that no Israeli soldiers or other defenses were present to intercept them, and how the militants used ramps to get vehicles across the border into Israel.
Near Kibbutz Sufa
As a group of fighters approach Kibbutz Sufa, a community of about 200 people a mile and a half from the border, one militant fires shots at the village from a moving motorcycle, displaying the indiscriminate nature of the attack. Later, a group of fighters gather at a nearby intersection, and one fires an RPG at what South First Responders described as an Israeli military post. It’s unclear whether any Israeli soldiers engaged them.
A fighter climbs over the yellow front gates of Kibbutz Sufa, accompanied by others carrying guns and RPGs, and walks past a seemingly unoccupied guard post. The footage shows how communities like Sufa built extensive defenses like barbed wire fences and mechanized gates, but still couldn’t stop the attack.
At least two militants walk around the kibbutz, firing at homes and blowing out a tire of a parked ambulance. They appear to shoot a person inside one home, who falls to the ground. In another video, the militants enter a house and fire shots up a darkened stairwell. After hearing an apparent phone ring, one of the militants seems to shout the Hebrew word for mother, in a potential attempt to lure residents out of hiding that sheds light on the group’s tactics for locating victims. A clock on the wall shows that it is about 7:50 a.m. — roughly an hour since they left Gaza.
The last video from the militant shows him being shot and falling to the ground while walking around the kibbutz, indicating how Israeli first responders found the camera and accessed the video. It’s not clear who shot him, or what happened to the other fighters in the community. The apparent death is a stark difference from the propaganda released by Hamas, which typically feature military victories.
Hamas has released some of the footage that its fighters took during their devastating assault on its own Telegram account, setting it to stirring music and highlighting attacks on Israeli tanks and soldiers. But the body camera footage recovered and released by Israeli first responders shows a fuller picture of the atrocities committed by the group, including the murder and hostage-taking of civilians.
Aymenn al-Tamimi, a researcher with the Middle East Forum who has studied recent wars in the region, noted that the fighters seen in the videos clearly appeared to be members of Hamas’ military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, based on their equipment and clothing. He said footage from the recovered devices “contrasted with the much more sanitized, official” videos Hamas has posted itself.
“They definitely don't want the idea of having an image of brutality that makes people prone to equating them with Islamic State,” al-Tamimi said.
Some of the videos appear to have been filmed in a wide-angle perspective that makes them more immersive for viewers, said Ligon, the director of the National Counterterrorism Innovation, Technology, and Education Center, a US government-affiliated research organization.
“That really showed some sophistication in terms of their planning for what they wanted to get in the videos,” Ligon said. “To have those shots filmed in a way that were really reminiscent of first-person shooter video games, so people can feel like they’re in it.”
Terrorists have long used footage from their attacks for propaganda reasons, and social media has accelerated the trend. The Islamic State ran an extensive social media operation that released videos of beheadings and other atrocities, some filmed from a similar first-person perspective. The right-wing extremist who killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019 also livestreamed footage of the attack from a camera mounted on his helmet, as did the shooter who fatally shot 10 Black people at a Buffalo supermarket last year.
“This is just the next evolution of propaganda,” said Peter Bergen, an author and CNN national security analyst who has studied terrorism. He noted that many of the Hamas fighters in the footage appeared to be “young men in their 20s – they’re very comfortable with social media and they live in a social media world.”
Other videos posted by South First Responders show the journey a fighter takes from Gaza to the nearby kibbutz of Kerem Shalom, as well as attacks in other Israeli communities.
Shokat as-Sufi, Gaza
A group of more than a dozen fighters gather in a courtyard in the southern Gaza town of Shokat as-Sufi, preparing to depart for Israel. One fighter on a motorcycle is seen wearing a GoPro-style camera on his head, while others are carrying assault rifles, an RPG launcher and walkie-talkies. The video shows the group’s coordination, their extensive munitions, and their plan to record the coming attack.
The fighters appear to detonate an explosive to break through a fence at the Gaza border, and then run through several layers of fencing. Like the other border-crossing video, the footage shows the lack of Israeli soldiers to intercept the Hamas fighters and the inadequacy of the border defenses.
Near Kibbutz Kerem Shalom
The militants set off another explosion to break through the concrete barrier wall that surrounds Kerem Shalom, a kibbutz located just across the border from Gaza. This video was taken around 7:30 a.m. on October 7, according to Bellingcat’s analysis of the sun’s position, showing that the attack took place at the same time as the assault on Sufa and suggesting close coordination between the different groups of militants.
Kibbutz Kerem Shalom
The quiet neighborhood is quickly transformed into a warzone, as the Hamas militants engage in a firefight. It’s not clear who they are shooting at. The fighter wearing the body camera runs away from the battle before being hit by a bullet, and apparently dying. The footage demonstrates the chaos that the militants brought to Israeli communities, and, experts say, shows how misleading the Hamas propaganda focusing on military targets is.
Nova music festival grounds
Other body camera videos posted by South First Responders — also collected from the bodies of Hamas fighters — provide evidence of atrocities committed at the Nova festival, the music festival where at least 260 people were killed. One video shows a fighter going down a line of portable toilets, firing into each one. Experts pointed to this kind of attack on civilian targets as undermining Hamas’ official propaganda.
Near Nova music festival grounds
Another video taken next to the festival site shows fighters grabbing a hostage and firing a pistol in the air. The video was blurred by South First Responders to protect the hostage’s privacy. One militant tells the hostage, “You killed our families, in Jerusalem” — seemingly blaming a single Israeli civilian for alleged actions of their government.
Several videos were filmed by Hamas fighters in the city of Ofakim, more than 13 miles from the Gaza border — showing how deep into Israel the militants penetrated. In another video from the city, one fighter is heard saying, “They’re all hiding in their homes,” suggesting an interest in finding civilians. South First Responders said the videos were also recovered from a fighter’s body camera, but it’s unclear why they are vertical, unlike the other videos released by the group.
The importance of the body camera footage to Hamas is highlighted by the roughly 40-page instruction manual for the group’s fighters, which CNN obtained from the Israeli government. Officials said the document was found on the body of a killed Hamas fighter in Israel. CNN has not been able to independently authenticate the origin of the document.
The Arabic-language pamphlet bears the logo of the al-Qassam Brigades and states that it is “a secret military document” from 2023. It includes basic details on Israeli military equipment and divisions, firearm and medical training, and tactical information such as strategies for attacking tanks.
On one page of the booklet titled “media specialty” — opposite descriptions of four different rifles — is a short instruction manual for a GoPro camera, as well as a point-and-shoot digital camera. The basic instructions include advice like “change shooting modes by pressing the Mode button.”
The videos may have been filmed for propaganda purposes, but they’re also likely a treasure trove for Israeli intelligence analysts as they work to understand Hamas’ actions and the tactics used in the attack, experts who reviewed some of the clips said. The footage could feature in future investigations into the failures of the Israeli military to defend against the incursion.
The atrocities the videos capture also makes the footage powerful evidence of war crimes committed by Hamas fighters – such as the killing of civilians and taking of civilian hostages – even though it’s unclear whether anyone who committed the acts will ever face any kind of court hearing.
“This would be very good evidence in a war crimes tribunal — your location, people's faces — if it ever came to that,” said Bergen, the national security analyst. “These are clearly war crimes.”