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Meet the Kurdish Suicide Bomber Planning to Attack the Islamic State in Kobane

VICE News spoke with a young YPG fighter who said he planned to blow himself up at an Islamic State position to help defend his hometown in Syria on the Turkish border.
Photo Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

Mehmûd sits and quietly explains how he plans to blow himself up. It's simple, he says. He'll strap explosives to his body, then detonate them when he sees an opportunity to inflict as much damage as possible on the Islamic State (IS) jihadists attacking his birthplace of Kobane.

The young Syrian, a fighter with the Kurdish YPG defending the town, arranged to meet with VICE News in front of a municipal building in Suruc, a Turkish border town a few miles away from the crossing into Kobane. He's late, but calls to say that he's a little farther down the street. There are police officers standing in front the building entrance, and he doesn't want to attract attention and risk arrest.


He's waiting 50 feet away, a small, sinewy 19-year-old in shop-distressed jeans, patent leather slip-ons, and a battered dark blue polo shirt with red and white trim. A friend stands by his side looking worried. Five days previously, Mehmûd had changed into civilian clothes and crossed into Turkey to see his mother, 12-year-old sister, and 14-year-old brother who fled to Turkey to escape the fighting. His father died a year ago. He hasn't told his family about his plans.

Mehmûd, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, asks to speak somewhere private. This turns out to be a car parked down a side street. There, he stares at the ground and talks quietly and defiantly.

"I want to enter Kobane to bomb myself," he says. "I will strap TNT on my chest, and I will not detonate it until I have the biggest number of IS members around me, or I'll bomb a tank."

'I will strap TNT on my chest, and I will not detonate it until I have the biggest number of IS members around me, or I'll bomb a tank.'

It's a statement borne of desperation. Mehmûd is grieving, his eyes red against his dark tanned skin. One of his three brothers was killed 20 days ago fighting IS, he says. Another was captured — which typically amounts to the same fate — nine days earlier.

Many of his friends had also died in the battle for Kobane, which began in earnest after IS launched a major offensive on the town last month. He pauses to play a video on his battered mobile phone. Footage of young men flashing peace signs at an outpost position on a hill outside the town moves across the dingy screen. They are all dead now, he says: one with his head blown off, another burned, a third torn in half by an explosion.


Life was not always like this. Mehmûd has been fighting with the YPG for about a year. Before that, back in 2011, he visited Lebanon, where he worked in a cafeteria for nine months, then returned to Syria.

IS fighters have surrounded Kobane for well over a year, but they were reluctant to take on the well trained Kurdish forces protecting the town. When the extremist group overran large swathes of northern Iraq in June, however, they plundered modern arms from the US-trained and equipped Iraqi army and gathered new recruits. The militants are now a far greater threat to the lightly armed YPG.

"At first, IS were few in number and we weren't heavily attacked," Mehmûd says. "Now, they're strong because they are many."

The extremists also have fanatical will to fight and do so with little regard for their lives and those of their comrades. "IS don't care, I was in battle and killed three of them, and their tanks just rolled over them and kept firing," he says.

Despite their newly acquired sophisticated weaponry, suicide attacks are still widely used by IS. They have not been part of the YPG's battlefield doctrine, however, although a number fighters have sacrificed themselves to strike at their enemies.

Dilar Gencxemis, known by her nom de guerre Arin Mirkanwas, was feted across social media recently when she launched a singlehanded attack on IS positions that culminated in her detonating grenades among a large group of militants, reportedly killing several as well as herself.


There have been others. VICE News previously spoke with an injured YPG fighter in a Suruc hospital who described watching a friend plant explosives on an IS tank, destroying it and himself during the detonation. He said that another badly injured comrade blew himself up to avoid being captured. added. Mehmûd says two of his friends did the same thing.

Mehmûd sees an important distinction between his plans and those of his extremist foes. "IS bomb themselves among people [civilians], that's their way, we bomb ourselves among soldiers."

Still, suicide bombing is not official YPG policy. Mehmûd says the others were unplanned and desperate acts, and that he will not be telling his commanders of his premeditated bombing, as they would stop him if they knew. "They were spontaneous attacks, when people were surrounded by ISIS. They were about to be captured… I decided to do this, I haven't told commanders and I won't tell them at all, I will do it without any coordination."

Even then, though, he is aware that a self-destructive attack might not be required to beat IS. Instead, he seems fixated on revenge. "It maybe isn't necessary, but I have to do it because my heart is burned. They [IS] burnt our house, my family."

"I'm not scared," he adds. "I'm only scared to be captured alive."

Mehmûd's friend, who sits in shocked silence during the conversation, says he had repeatedly and unsuccessfully asked him not do it. "It's wrong, he shouldn't. Enough members of his family have died. His two brothers are dead, his father is dead. He shouldn't do that for his home, because who will take care of them now?" Mehmûd replies that his remaining brother will look after the family he leaves behind.


He planned to cross into Kobane the day after speaking with VICE News. The border has officially been closed by Turkish authorities, and guards previously used tear gas to stop him and others from reaching Kobane.

This time, he planned to sneak across the border alone, just east of the official crossing. "I'll go at night when nobody sees and jump across the fence," he says.

US-led airstrikes on IS forces in the region now appear to have halted the group's advance, allowing the YPG to push them back. Perhaps the grief and desperation driving Mehmûd to such an extreme act will now be lessened and he will no longer feel the need to sacrifice himself.

A few days after speaking to VICE News, Mehmûd made it into Syria again. He is not yet known to have carried out his attack.

Follow John Beck on Twitter: @JM_Beck