The Story of Baghdadi's Gun

The AKS-74U owned by the Terrorist leader comes to light after his death.

On April 29th 2019, the IS Media outfit Al-Furqan Media Foundation released a video of the fugitive then-leader of IS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, entitled “In the Hospitality of the Emir of the Believers”, intended to prove his health and control over the group. In the video, which we now know was filmed in a 6x8m tunnel hideout in the Anbar desert of Iraq, the viewer can clearly see a stubby carbine to the left of al-Baghdadi.

The gun in question is a AKS-74U Carbine made after 1986 in the Tula factory in Russia. In a fascinating turn of events, it was recovered by Iraqi security forces in a remote location in al-Qaim, Iraq, close to the Syrian border, in mid-2019.

While the symbolism of the AKS-74U in the hands of Insurgent leaders is well known, and covered by this author in an extensive thread at the time, let’s focus on the physical gun shown, which until very recently has never seen the light outside of the infamous propaganda video. The previous owner isn’t clear, but one significant possibility is Syria, where the platform is both very popular with both regime and opposition fighters, and has been captured from the regime many times over the course of the conflict there. There’s also an active black market in both countries, where it’s very expensive as a status symbol.

The capture by the Iraqi authorities was part of intelligence operations that managed to capture Mohammed Ali Sajet al-Zoubai, al-Baghdadi’s brother-in-law and aide, as well as others, including the wife of Baghdadi’s courier. Iraqi Intelligence also killed various senior IS figures. al-Zoubai apparently led Iraqi intelligence to at least one hideout, which contained Baghdadi’s AKS-74U. Various important documents and literature were recovered as well as multiple small arms.

Interestingly, 6 magazines were recovered with the carbine, which indicates that that it was no mere prop for use in the propaganda video but perhaps the actual personal weapon that the IS leader carried day to day in Iraq- ready for a possible attempt to capture or kill him. Given it’s compact size and effective cartridge this isn’t necessarily a bad choice, especially when operating in hostile areas, which by April had been the situation for months.

A full-sized AK-74 would be much more effective at ranged combat than the carbine- but if concealable firepower was a prime consideration the AKS-74U would be an ideal choice for the fugitive. Whilst the AKS-74U and it’s 5.45x39mm ammuntion is rather expensive in Iraq, this would be extremely unlikely to be an issue for the cash-rich terrorist group.

A large extended magazine (45 round capacity, meant for the RPK-74 LMG) shown in the video of April 29th was not recovered, however. This was likely added for it’s symbolistic value, meant to replicate other famous leaders, such as Osama Bin Laden.


Mohammed Ali Sajet al-Zoubai has been since interviewed by the Saudi Al Arabiya channel multiple times, including one section in which he holds the very gun, which has a rather unique grain pattern. The gun never accompanied Baghdadi to Idlib, where he met his death in October 2019.

Interviewer: Could you describe Al-Baghdadi's last appearance?

Muhammad Ali Sajet: I can demonstrate it to you. This is the gun he had behind him in his last appearance.


Interviewer: Did [Al-Baghdadi] wear an explosives belt?

Muhammad Ali Sajet: Yes, he did. They had hand-grenades, American machine guns, as well as bazookas – he was completely ready.

Interviewer: Did you think that if there was a raid when you were with him, he would blow himself up, like he did?

Muhammad Ali Sajet: Yes, he would never have surrendered. Even when he slept, the explosives belt was nearby.

- Interview with Mohammed Ali Sajet al-Zoubai, Al Arabiya TV, translated by MEMRI TV

Curiously though, no evidence has yet emerged of the “American machine guns” that al-Baghdadi and his close companions reportedly carried. It’s unclear if the interviewee was referring to US-origin Assault rifles- such as Colt/FN M4-pattern Carbine, Rock River Arms LAR-15 or SIG Sauer M400, all of which are carried by Iraqi forces and often captured and used by IS. The compact M400 in particular is comparable in size to the AKS-74U, with a slightly longer 11.5” barrel, likely giving mildly improved ballistics.


IS Spokesperson with M4-pattern carbine, 2019

Alternatively, the reference to “American machine guns” could refer to modern Western medium or light machine guns, such as the the M240 or M249, which are also very common.

It’s not clear when or if this particular AKS-74U will ever see the light again, but in it’s few inglorious appearances in the spotlight it’s certainly been part of a fascinating story.

Many thanks to Daniele Raineri, who is ridiculously well informed on IS, for alerting the author as to one of Muhammad Ali Sajet’s interviews on Al Arabiya TV. Also to Hassan Hassan, for a very useful thread on Baghdadi’s last months and hideouts.

Hezbollah's Favourite ATGM

The recent spate of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, part of the larger Israel-Iranian conflict, came to a peak on Sunday, 2nd of September 2019, when two ATGM (Anti-Tank Guided Missiles) were fired at an Israeli Wolf APC on the Israel-Lebanon border near the settlement of Yi’ron. Whilst there was an expectation that an attack would happen, being a response to Israeli bombing of Hezbollah personnel in Syria, it is still of use to cover what weapons were used and why.,c_limit,f_auto,q_auto:good,fl_lossy/

One of the most potent weapons in Hezbollah’s arsenal is the 9M133-1 Kornet-E ATGM. The Kornet-E is the export designation for what’s usually known simply as the Kornet, or by it’s NATO reporting name, the AT-14 Spriggan. A long range weapon with a tandem-charge warhead and a range of up to 5000 metres (or over 3 miles), the Kornet was unveiled in 1994 by the KBP Instrument Design Bureau and is a fruit of the Soviet Union’s effort to build a modern, laser guided, and highly effective ATGM.

Kornet firing by Russian Forces - Credit:

The Kornet has enjoyed considerable export success, including to Syria, which passed on many to Hezbollah, which have used the Kornet and other ATGM variants to great effect against Israeli armour, starting in the 2006 Lebanon War. Generally regarded as cutting edge at that time, the Kornet was the most potent ATGM used in 2006, along with other modern Russian-origin weapons such as the Metis-M and RPG-29.

They were only employed in limited quantities compared to other, older ATGM, but did prove to be one the most effective platforms Hezbollah could employ against IDF armour, mainly down to the very potent warhead and long range. Detailed information on Israeli armour losses remains unclear, especially for Armoured Personnel Carriers and Humvees, but around 20 Merkava tanks were penetrated by anti-tank weapons, mostly the Kornet, such as in the Battle of Wadi Saluki/al-Hujeir, in which two Merkava Mk4 were knocked out by Kornet.

Above: Kornet-E packing cases (With missiles inside) recovered from the Village of Ghandouriyeh, Lebanon, 2006. As can clearly be seen, these ATGM originate from Russian deliveries to Syria.

The Kornet has seen active use by Hezbollah since, such as in the January 2015 Shebaa farms incident, in which a Hezbollah unit using multiple Kornet destroyed two IDF vehicles, killing 2 and wounding 7.

So this brings us to the recent events involving Hezbollah’s use of Kornet against an IDF vehicle in September 2019, a likely attempt to replicate the results of the January 2015 attack. In this case, two Kornet were fired from Lebanon, which both missed, striking the road close to the APC. Whilst initial information was unclear, it later emerged that there had been no Israeli casualties at all. However, if the two missiles had indeed struck the APC with multiple IDF soldiers inside, then there would certainly be multiple casualties and a completely destroyed vehicle.

Since the video doesn’t show the launcher or missiles clearly, it is currently unclear if the Kornets launched were manufactured by Russia (Kornet-E, as previously mentioned) or by Iran, who have manufactured the Kornet as the “Dehlavieh” since 2012 and may have supplied Hezbollah with that variant.

There are multiple reasons for Hezbollah to use a Kornet strike as opposed to an raid, IED, or other means.

The long range of the Kornet (up to 5km) means that the IDF APC could be struck precisely whilst the operators remain within Lebanon, with no need to attempt to cross the border. This minimises risk to the ATGM team, while ensuring that the fire is as accurate as possible, as opposed to indiscriminate rocket or mortar fire, or even shorter range ATGM such as the 9K111.

Based on Estimations by @ELINTNews

In fact, the roughly 2.6km distance of the dual ATGM strike is well within the Kornet’s comfortable range, even within the range of 9K113 “Konkurs” ATGM. However, the Kornet’s superior warhead make the probability of a kill against even a lightly armoured Wolf APC even higher. The Kornet also likely has superior optics for the ease of use of the operator. Although the Kornet is often supplied with thermal optics (1P79 series, or RU244TK/RU150TK in the case of Iran) in this case it’s unclear if only basic 1P45-type optic was used by Hezbollah.


Hezbollah Kornet/Dehlavieh on the Syria-Lebanon border, 2017, via @Rufus_McDonald

Given the Kornet’s storied history of effectiveness against Israeli armour (notwithstanding the IDF’s recent use of Trophy APS mounted on Merkava MBT to almost completely nullify Hamas’ RPG & ATGM), the Kornet is also an icon of Hezbollah and it’s military strength.

Regardless of the fact that in this case, both Kornet fired missed the vehicle completely, seemingly only causing minor damage, it’s unlikely this is the last we see of this ATGM, as it’s one of the most potent that Hezbollah have.

Header GIF credit: @Jtruzmah

Hamas' Mysterious Anti-Tank Weapon

Today the newsletter covers a weapon you have likely never read about, ever. Let’s discuss the Tandem 85.

Whilst the indigenous capability of groups on the Gaza Strip (in particular in the form of crude rockets, balloon IEDs/IIDs and an improved RPG-2 copy known as the Yasin) are comparatively well known to outside observers, there is another development that has barely been covered in the public domain. This development can, in my opinion, be seen as a successor to the Yasin, which is a Gazan RPG-2 copy that includes some design improvements from the later RPG-7.

The Yasin was developed by Adnan al-Ghoul around 2004 to provide the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades with a semblence of indigenous anti-vehicle production ability, although from the outset it was unlikely to be effective against IDF Main Battle Tanks. However, the Yasin did see use against Israeli personnel in 2005, and internally against Palestinian Police in the same year, as well as having the capabilty to be effective against soft-skinned vehicles and buildings. It was also used against IDF forces in 2007.

In fact, the Yasin now appears to be regarded as obsolete against IDF forces, and it’s warheads have started to be repurposed as balloon-launched IEDs- as seen below, in an image from October 2018.

However, al-Qassam brigades appear to have persued a new successor to the Yasin, designed specifically to counter IDF armour, which is increasingly equipped with continually improving armour. This doesn’t take the form of a whole RPG, but rather a warhead for the RPG-7 launcher, called the Tandem 85, using a tandem-charge warhead.

What’s the point in a “Tandem-Charge” warhead?

A tandem-charge warhead uses two charges to disrupt ERA (Explosive Reactive Armour) on Tanks and other armour. The first smaller charge disrupts the explosive blocks, allowing the second, main, charge to hit the armour of the vehicle. ERA has been increasingly used on armoured vehicles since the middle of the cold war, including on IDF examples. Not all reactive armour is explosive however- IDF APCs such as the Namer use likely non-explosive reactive armour, which Tandem-charge warheads are of lesser effectiveness against. However, some older IDF APCs, such as the Zelda series have been known to utilise ERA. A tandem charge warhead is also more effective against standard or composite armour if ERA doesn’t exist, with greater penetration.

It does not appear to have been officially “unveiled”, and can’t be seen in martyrdom images from al-Qassam brigades either, rather only in parades and operational use. Even then, it’s appearance is very uncommon, suggesting that it may still be in development.

The Tandem 85 was first shown off in a-Qassam parades around December 2014, although it’s possible it was shown off slightly earlier. As you may notice above, the early version (“Generation 1”) of the Tandem 85 resembles a PG-7V warhead with a another, smaller charge crudely added to the front, an improvised copy of factory-made tandem-charge RPG warheads, such as the Russian PG-7VR. It’s likely that the “85” refers to the 85mm calibre of the main charge- identical to the PG-7V.

The al-Qassam brigades are known to have the PG-7VR in it’s possession. The warhead of the PG-7VR is standardised with that of the PG-29V, an infamous weapon in the al-Qassam Brigades’ hands. It’s entirely likely that the designer of the Tandem 85- Muhammed al-Quqa, a field commander and weapons developer for the group- would have taken direct inspiration from the Russian design, or even directly copied the precursor charge and it’s internals. In a February 2017 video eulogising al-Quqa, al-Qassam claims that the Tandem 85 destroyed 5 Israeli Tanks. There is no evidence for this claim- however in the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict multiple RPG-7/29 and ATGM were used against IDF Armour. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to verify if the Tandem 85 was actually used, but this is entirely possible.

Multiple Tandem 85 warheads shown in an al-Qassam brigades parade- Gaza, December 2014. Source: Ruptly

Essentially, the Tandem 85 represents an ingenious attempt to use the large stocks of al-Qassam’s PG-7V projectiles- which may be increasingly ineffective against IDF armour, excepting basic M113 variants- to create an entirely more dangerous warhead, much more akin to the PG-7VR or Bulgarian PG-7VT. It's also possible the entire warhead is being manufactured locally, not just adapting PG-7V.

al-Qassam brigades with PG-7VR, plus RPG-29 and ATGM

However, the story of the Tandem 85 doesn’t end there. In 2017, an al-Qassam brigades revealed a refined design that appeared much closer to a factory product: “Generation 2”.

Tandem 85 warhead shown in an al-Qassam brigades parade- Gaza, December 2017. Source: Ruptly

As can be seen below, the precursor charge was enlarged and the body between precursor and main charge is much more refined. It’s possible that the main HEAT charge has been lengthened too. This expansion may enhance the warhead’s ability to disrupt IDF composite or spaced armour- if ERA is not present, the precursor charge will assist in the penetration of the round.

Still of Tandem 85 Gen2 in testing

The Tandem 85 is often seen accompanied by the PG-7VR, again suggesting the role that al-Qassam envisages for the warhead. The author has not yet spotted Gen1 and Gen2 Tandem 85 together, suggesting that either the former was withdrawn from service, or was upgraded to the newer type. Until recently evidence of Tandem 85 use was extremely sparse, until four Gazan militants were killed during a thwarted attack on August 10th 2019. The IDF released images of arms captured from the attacks, including a single Tandem 85 charge, complete with operating instructions on the side and with an altered paint scheme.

Below one can see the PG-7VR (Which is partially disassembled) alongside the Tandem 85 clearly showing the design influence of that warhead on the Tandem 85- the dimensions of the precursor charge are close to identical. The colour scheme of this Tandem 85 appears to be a mix between the DPRK’s dark-grey and the Russian dark-green.

The appearance of this round from an active operation determines that the Gen2 warhead can be considered an active asset of the al-Qassam brigades.

The Tandem 85 is a fascinating example of indigenous weapons development utilising existing warheads and direct inspiration from factory weapons- and it seems it’s story isn’t over yet, even with the death of its creator. It will surely be fascinating to see the evolution and use of this weapon, which could represent a real change in the amount of potent anti-armour weapons that the IDF may face.

Newsletter #1: Nazi Assault rifles in Idlib

Good Morning (or Afternoon) Everyone,

Thanks for giving the Calibre Obscura Newsletter a go. It’ll be worth it.

The topic for today’s newsletter is one that always gains tonnes of attention whenever it appears on Twitter- the StG 44 rifles appearing in Syria, in particular their low cost when for sale. This topic has been covered online before, but here’s a breakdown in how the StG 44s, the infamous “first ever assault rifle” designed for use by the Nazi regime, appear for sale in good condition in Idlib for a tiny fraction of their worth in the West.

How they got to Syria

The Deutsche Demokratische Republik, otherwise known as communist East Germany, always maintained close links with the Ba’athist regime of Syria. This included shipments of Tanks, bolt action rifles, and other arms, such as the StG 44. Syria eagerly purchased (sometimes for next to zero cost, or entirely on credit) large quantities of essentially obsolete arms from East Germany and other states, such as Czechoslovakia, which was in posession of large quantities of Nazi-made weapons, and the USSR, which itself had massive stocks.

It’s believed that StG 44 were sold to Syria by both East Germany and the Czechs in the 1950s to 70s- in particular around 2,200 StG 44 from the DDR in 1964, and an unknown quantity from Czechoslovakia in a larger shipment, as well as possible transfers from the USSR. Sales included large quantities of ammunition- Czechoslovakia and East Germany both produced 7.92x33mm Kurz ammunition.

Of course, even through the StG 44 was a perfectly usable design, Syria received many more shipments of millions of Eastern Bloc arms, including the AK series, which became the service rifle of the SyAA (including the AKM, AKMS, Type 56 series, and many other AKs from different countries). The StG 44s were hence put into the SyAA’s massive long term storage reserves, never seeing the light until the Civil War.

Capture and Use

The most cited source of StG 44 in opposition hands is this video of the capture of a claimed 5000 StG 44 and ammunition in August 2012 by the then FSA-aligned al-Tawhid Brigade. (This may not be, however, the only capture of StG 44 by rebel groups in the early years of the war, but it is the only one documented)

These were mixed in with other small arms, but were apparently all in very good condition. Whilst it may seem unusual for the Syrian regime to store such old arms, SyAA warehouses were often massively overstocked with huge quantities of small arms of every type, as well as other light weapons- RPG, ATGM, and more.

As is natural with opposition captured arms, they quickly spread to multiple factions and across the country, including use as an improvised remote weapons station! Given the pioneering nature of the gun and it’s essential similarity to modern assault rifles there was no reason that the captured examples couldn’t be employed in combat.

Image result for stg 44 remote


The StG 44’s active use has declined rapidly over the years since their capture however, as the supply of ammunition originally imported by Syria in the Cold War was used up. This took several years, as there was likely hundreds of thousands of both WW2 German and later-produced 7.92x33mm rounds imported.


The rifle pictured above had previously been in use by a rebel fighter in the last opposition enclave of greater Idlib, but then was sold as there was no ammunition to be found- this explains the multiple instances of StG being on sale for $50 or less, much to the chargin of Western firearms collectors.


May 2019, Idlib.

Curiously, the StG 44 was in ISIS hands right up to December 2018 in the “Hajin Pocket”, when a stockless example (which would render it useless) was captured amongst 9 Type 67 machine guns, which lacked barrels. It’s unclear why it was retained and up to what point the group still used the Nazi-era gun.


The 7.92x33mm round can still be found in Idlib, but literally in single rounds. This means the use of the StG 44 in Syria is essentially totally over, except perhaps to hang on the wall of a local enthusiast.

Want to learn more about the StG and many other WW2 arms in Syria?

Great resources include: (I discovered this page as I was finishing this email, and it contains far more detail about many other weapons systems, as well as images of StG 44 in FSA use) (Whilst the numbers quoted in this article as slightly inaccurate, it does give a good history of the development of the assault rifle.)

Friend forwarded this email to you?

Welcome to the Calibre Obscura Newsletter

After some polling and asking of lots of people, I’ve decided to launch this newsletter as an entirely free service for the time being, before possibly shifting to including paid elements in the future.

Want to just sign up? Go to:

If you’ve got this far, I’d assume you know what Calibre Obscura is about; but if not then here’s what to expect from this newsletter.

  • In depth information on arms and materiel identification

  • Aiming for the most complete coverage of arms in non-state groups’ hands across the Middle East and further afield, such as Ukraine. There will also be some coverage of state-affiliated Militas and irregular forces. (Remember, my website at will remain online and I will still post long form content there)

  • News and analysis of current events relevent to the field- If a new Wilayah forms somewhere (We’ll presume they are armed), you’ll be the first to know what their equipment is.

So what’s the difference between this newsletter and your website, or your Twitter feed?

Simple- this newsletter will be designed to be easy to digest over a coffee, at the end of the day, etc. That means that it will be shorter than the articles on my website, and come more frequently. The articles on my website won’t stop, and I have a huge amount of information that I am working on there.

Essentially, this will fill the gap between content on and the website.

Something else important: I am exploring the possibility of guest writers on this newletter too; rest assured any topics covered with both be directly relevent, and covered only by those who really bring useful content.

Loading more posts…