On February 27, 2018, a small youtube channel posted a video titled “Terrorists’ bomb-car in Damascus”. The video showed an up-armoured SVBIED, but the description of the video went on to claim that the Syrian Arab Army had captured a Faylaq al-Rahman car bomb in Damascus, more specifically in the capital’s Eastern Ghouta suburb. Despite what was claimed, it’s very unlikely that the vehicle was actually seized in the country’s capital. Before I explain exactly why, let’s begin by charting the surprisingly extensive travels of our mysterious SVBIED.
In March 2018, the exact same SVBIED somehow turned up in Russia, at the Ministry of Defence’s “International Mine Action Center”. In a Russian MoD photo album detailing the visit of a Vietnamese military delegation to the center, the SVBIED, an older model Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV, could be seen being inspected by an EOD robot.
And it didn’t stop there. In late August 2018, the Russian military opened a massive exhibition at ‘Patriot Park’ just outside Moscow. The exhibition included a variety of weapon systems and military vehicles seized from opposition factions and IS during the course of the Syrian Civil War, with many of them being makeshift and up-armoured. The SVBIED turned up there as well, with an accompanying mannequin of questionable character.
After the completion of the exhibition, the Russian military made the exhibition mobile by mounting and assembling some of the vehicles and armaments on a train with more than a dozen carriages. In February 2019, the train began a cross-country tour of 61 cities from Moscow to Vladivostok, arriving back in Moscow again in late April. The SVBIED made its way onto the mobile train exhibition too. In video footage from the train station in Kursk, central Russia, the up-armoured SVBIED was seen fixed to a train car. The rusty armour job had received a fresh sheet of green paint, likely to prevent it from falling apart completely during the tour.
When the train-bound exhibition visited St. Petersburg, Armory Bazaar was even able to snap a photo of the SVBIED along with a shoutout.
The people who manufactured this SVBIED would probably be surprised to find out how far their creation has travelled. However, that begs the question of who assembled the vehicle in the first place. The original video showing the SVBIED where it was seized offers some insight into that. But first, let’s discuss why the entire claim of the original video is demonstrably false. As mentioned before, I seriously doubt the claim that it’s a Faylaq al-Rahman creation seized in the Eastern Ghouta Damascus suburb. The claim that al-Rahman manufactured it wass likely an attempt to slander the group by a pro-loyalist individual, as Faylaq al-Rahman was an Islamist FSA outlet that received external Qatari support and was armed with US-made TOW ATGMs. The only group operating in Eastern Ghouta until its fall that would even ideologically allow for suicide bombings was Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, or HTS (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra & the official Syrian AQ group). However, This SVBIED looks unlike any creation HTS has ever shown themselves use.
The only group that has used this type of SVBIED design before is the Islamic State (hereafter IS). By analysing specific design features, we’ll be able to roughly pinpoint the general area and timeframe of the vehicle’s capture. The vehicle in question is a stage 3 camouflaged SVBIED with interior armour, a design that was used by IS mostly in Raqqah city and its surroundings, but also in the Eastern Aleppo region prior to the battle of Raqqah and later in the Central and Eastern Syrian deserts toward Deir ez-Zor. But how do we know that it’s actually IS that manufactured this specific SVBIED? Without a video confirming exactly where it was seized, it’s difficult to be 100% sure. However, we can still come pretty close to that.
Let’s take a look at some of the specific features of our mysterious SVBIED, beginning with its explosive payload. Interestingly enough, this vehicle had been fitted with a rather unique rear payload; a singular sealed steel container. These payloads are not very common, but have been documented previously.
The geographic spread of previously documented identical payloads has mostly been restricted to the Eastern Aleppo region. Below are two examples that were used or captured in the E. Aleppo region in March, 2017:
The latter of the two examples allows us to segue into examining the armour job as well. This pick-up truck SVBIED also appears to have interior armour. When manufacturing stage 3 camouflaged SVBIEDs with interior armour, a lot of effort is put into emulating civilian vehicles. Workshops would often detach the frontal section of the vehicle, mount armour plates surrounding the engine block, before re-attaching the frontal section. The interior of the driver’s cabin would also be converted into an armoured capsule. In this case, it looks like the frontal section of the vehicle fell off. In any case, the most interesting aspect of this vehicle is the similarity of the frontal wheelhouse armour to that of our own mysterious SVBIED.
Another stage 3 camouflaged SVBIED with interior armour was seized by Syrian loyalist forces near the town of Deir Hafer in the Eastern Aleppo countryside in March, 2017.
The armoured capsule of this example showed clear similarities to that of our own mysterious SVBIED.
Yet another stage 3 camouflaged SVBIED based on an SUV was seized by Syrian loyalist forces in the Eastern Aleppo countryside in the same time period, and was later included in a longer Russian reportage from the area, published in June the same year. This example had similarly been fitted with the singular sealed payload steel container.
Based on all the similar design features of our own mysterious SVBIED to those included in this article, it’s fair to say that our mysterious SVBIED isn’t all that mysterious anymore. It’s highly likely that it was captured by Syrian loyalist forces from IS somewhere in the Eastern Aleppo countryside in the spring of 2017, before being flown to Russia. The original video published in February 2018 that claimed it was seized from Faylaq al-Sham in Eastern Ghouta, Damascus has thus been completely debunked.
Furthermore, it’s also likely that the SVBIED was manufactured in the Raqqah area, before being transported to the Eastern Aleppo region for use. The cross-provincial use of SVBIEDs has been documented in this region before, and was usually a phenomenon seen during times of heightened hostilities.
UPDATE – JUNE 26, 2019
After I published this article, Twitter user @MathieuMorant replied with a picture from when the SVBIED was captured. According to him, the vehicle was seized in the Deir ez-Zor area in September, 2017 – Not in the E. Aleppo countryside as I speculated. However, as I mentioned earlier, stage 3 camouflaged SVBIEDs were also used there, though not as widely as in E. Aleppo and Raqqah. The picture of the SVBIED was taken by a “Tiger Forces” soldier, and was subsequently posted to a pro-Loyalist facebook page before being deleted.
UPDATE – JULY 8, 2020
In January 2020, Russian TV channel ‘Zvezda’ published a video showing Russian EOD personnel utilising various remotely piloted vehicles in order to examine an up-armoured SVBIED. The vehicle in question was the same one that this article examined. Here are some stills from the video, showing the sapper examining and cutting wires connected to the vehicle’s payload:
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