Supernova festival: How massacre unfolded from verified video and social media

Security evacuating the Supernova festival as the attack began

Warning: This article contains details that some may find distressing

The last videos taken before the horror began, show it was a festival like any other – young people, dancing at dawn.

According to some accounts, there were up to 4,000 people in attendance. From the footage, they appear to be mostly under 30.

They had gathered in a remote area of southern Israel for the Supernova festival – an event that had promised dance, music, art and drinks at a secret location.

Ticket holders were told, nearer the time, to head to a site north of the Re’im kibbutz, about 6km (3.7 miles) east of Gaza. The party’s organisers promised a “journey of unity and love”.

And indeed, there are many happy faces to be seen in a video uploaded at 07:22 local time, showing festival-goers laughing and dancing in the weak morning light.

But above their heads, small black clouds of smoke signal the start of the terror that is approaching.

They appear to be the plumes left behind by the defensive missiles used by Israeli military to intercept rockets fired from Gaza.

In the hours that followed, Hamas would fire thousands of rockets into Israel.

BBC Verify has pieced together the events of the weekend’s festival bloodbath using video and social media posts that we have verified, and facial recognition technology.

Some of the festival-goers can be seen in the same footage looking up at the dark wisps above their heads. Others are oblivious and keep dancing.

A video from the site shows festival-goers dancing as some begin to notice signs of what appears to be rocket fire overhead

In another video posted shortly afterwards, the music has stopped.

People are starting to evacuate the festival site – some look panicked, others duck for cover, and a few are nonchalantly heading for the exit.

A short drive away at the Gaza barrier, the next phase of the assault is under way.

‘They were everywhere’

It’s unclear how many minutes passed between the rockets starting and the gunmen arriving, but eyewitness accounts suggest it all happened very quickly.

“There were rockets, then they started firing. It was coming from different directions, and getting louder and louder,” Gilad Karplus, 31, and working as a massage therapist at the festival, told the BBC.

“I saw people going down. As we saw that, we just jumped into the jeep and drove into the fields.”

An Instagram story posted by one woman showed the rockets in the sky and people leaving the site.

“We went through a main road but after a minute someone started screaming that terrorists are shooting,” she wrote to her followers.

“But after two minutes, to the other direction [we] realised that there are more terrorists there as well.”

It’s impossible to know if the militants knew the festival was taking place at that location – but they would surely have heard the music reverberating across the quiet countryside.

We also know that, whether they found the site by accident or not, they came prepared to kill.

Gili Yoskovich told BBC News at the weekend how the militants “were everywhere with automatic weapons” and how she heard more weapons being unloaded from a van.

All the accounts suggest the camp was effectively surrounded and the roads in and out of the site were blocked.

Festival-goers were running in all directions, but some were still within range of the gunmen.

Gilad, who served in the Israeli army, said: “We pretty much knew they would probably block the road. I’m pretty sure a lot of people got killed on those roads.

“We drove into the field and tried to hide from them… afterwards we got a bit deeper into the fields and then they started firing sniper rifles on us from different places and also heavy artillery.”

As he made his way towards what he hoped was safety, Gilad says he saw an Israeli military vehicle.

“We drove very slowly and once we got to it we saw it had been hit by an anti-tank missile or something like that.”

There was no sign of the soldiers who had been in it.

Slaughter captured on camera

While some were fleeing into the fields and desert, the militants were methodically prowling through the festival killing on sight.

Dashcam footage time-stamped at 09:23, taken from a parked car, shows three of the gunmen who took part in the massacre.

In the opening frame of the footage a motionless body is seen lying curled up next to a car.

A militant armed with an automatic weapon is then seen ordering a bloodied man out of shot to get to the ground, before grabbing him by the back of his T-shirt and leading him away past the camera’s gaze. It’s unknown whether he survived.

And then the body by the car moves. The man, who appears to have been playing dead, stirs. He raises his head to see if the coast is clear.

It’s a fatal error.

Seconds later, another militant jogs into frame and shoots him in the head at point blank range and walks away.

In a later section from the same footage, a group of men appear. Only one is armed – they appear to be there to loot. They are seen rifling through the pockets of the dead man by the car, and going through a suitcase in another parked vehicle. But they find more than luggage. Two people, a man and a woman, who were hiding in a car are discovered and led away.

The woman who was taken suddenly reappears two minutes later. She jumps and waves her arms in the air. She must think help is at hand – by this time, the Israeli Defence Forces had began their efforts to repel the incursion. But seconds later she slumps to the floor as bullets bounce around her. We don’t know if she survived.

The BBC has analysed the footage and ran still images of the gunmen who were visible through a facial recognition tool.

It matched one of the faces with images of a man in police uniform which were available on the website of Gaza’s Nuseirat municipality.

We compared these through Amazon Rekognition software and got a similarity score of between 94-97% (some campaigners, however, have raised concerns that non-white faces can be falsely identified on facial recognition tools).

The faces of three militants who took part in the attack – facial recognition tools have matched the middle gunman to images of a man in police uniform in Gaza

Counting the cost

Across the festival site, these savage scenes were being repeated over and over again.

More than 260 bodies have reportedly been recovered from the site, according to rescue agency Zaka.

Mobile and drone footage lays bare the scale of the Hamas assault, with the roads leading to the sites strewn with cars which had failed to make it through the frenzy of bullets.

The festival had become a warzone – and for some, the nightmare continues.

Hamas claim to have taken several hostages from the site, and the Israelis say about 100 people from across the country are being held inside Gaza.

One of the most harrowing videos to emerge from the festival is of a woman named on social media as Noa Argamani. In footage posted on social media by Hamas, she is seen being bundled on to the back of a motorcycle by militants crying and screaming, reaching out to a man who is being restrained. He watches on as she is driven away into the distance.

Footage purporting to show her alive in Gaza has circulated online but it’s unclear if it is genuine.

Her family, and the families of others abducted from the festival, await news of their loved ones – and it remains unclear how the Israeli government intends to get them back.

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