IDF Killing Palestinians with Sniper Drones Playing Recordings of Crying Infants?

In late April 2024, the claim emerged that the Israeli Defense Forces have used armed quadcopter drones against residents of Gaza’s Al Nuseirat refugee camp to shoot and kill would-be good Samaritan Palestinians using the sounds of crying infants as bait. An article by journalist Spencer Ackerman argued that this dystopian practice was turning Gaza into “a laboratory of wars for the future.”

While the IDF’s use of armed drones in Gaza has been well-documented, the specific claim of using recorded noises of infants or others in distress stems from an April 16, 2024 report in the outlet Middle East Eye:

Israeli quadcopters are employing a “bizarre” new tactic of playing audio recordings of crying infants and women in order to lure Palestinians to locations where they can be targeted.

On Sunday and Monday night, residents of the northern parts of Gaza’s Nuseirat refugee camp woke up to the sounds of babies crying and women calling out for help.

When they went outside to locate the source of the cries and provide aid, Israeli quadcopters reportedly opened fire directly at them.

That reporting, by journalist and activist Maha Hussaini of the nonprofit Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, followed online claims about such drone attacks, and involved interviewing witnesses on the ground in the besieged refugee camp. Snopes can neither confirm nor exclude the possibility that these events occurred as described.

While the claim has several aspects characteristic of either rumor or propaganda, the notion is not on its face absurd based on the IDF’s past use of drones and their current technological capabilities. Hussaini, who is on the ground in the Gaza Strip, told Snopes she visited the camp after residents reporting the drone noises reached out to her directly.

The IDF did not respond to Snopes’ requests for comment or clarification. An Israeli military spokesperson told Ackerman: “We do not comment on operational tools.”

The Accusation

According to EuroMed Monitor’s reporting, these tactics were employed on the nights of April 14 and 15. The earliest mention on social media of drones playing crying infant noises that Snopes has identified appeared on X, where two accounts made the same claim simultaneously on April 14, at 11:49 p.m. Gaza time.

Quds News Network is a Palestinian youth-run media outlet. Mariam from Gaza is a popular X account that shares breaking news about Gaza. It is unclear which of these two accounts’ tweets was first, or whether either tweet was a response to the other.

Video footage of the alleged practice emerged on social media the next night. The earliest instance of someone sharing a video on X purporting to document the drones playing prerecorded audio came at around 1:30 a.m. Gaza time on April 16, in a post from an account described as belonging to a pro-Palestinian activist:

This video has since gone viral. The version shared above has received more than 1 million views, at the time of this reporting, as has a version of the video produced by Middle East Eye that had been shared alongside Hussaini’s reporting. As far as Snopes can discern, this is the only video used as evidence to support the claim that these drones were playing prerecorded infant crying noises.

Hussaini, in an email to Snopes, said that she “personally went there and met with numerous eyewitnesses, including at least five people I interviewed … and many others who only spoke to me but refused to be recorded or interviewed, fearing for their own safety.”

On April 16, Hussaini published her report in Middle East Eye, citing eyewitnesses who said seven to 10 people were injured in drone attacks the previous night. She published the testimony of two residents of the Al Nuseirat camp. The first said she heard the sound of a woman crying and screaming coming from a drone:

Samira Abu al-Leil, a resident of the refugee camp, told Middle East Eye that she heard Israeli quadcopters opening fire during and shortly after playing the recorded sounds, which lasted for several minutes and recurred multiple times on Monday night. “I heard a woman crying and screaming for help, saying, ‘Help me, my son was martyred’. The sounds were coming from the street and they were bizarre,” the 49-year-old said. …

“At night, the streets are usually empty and men are inside their homes,” Leil added. “When the quadcopters open fire, they only hit the roofs and streets, they don’t find any people to shoot. So they played these sounds because they know the nature of our society; they know that men were going to try to provide help. They wanted them to go out so that they could shoot them,” she said.

The second witness said he heard the crying baby noises, but did not venture to look because he has heard warnings about the practice:

Muhammed Abu Youssef, 19, told MEE that at around 2am on Monday he heard the cries of babies. However, since people were posting on social media to raise awareness of the source of these sounds, he chose not to venture outside.

“There were different sounds coming from the quadcopters. They were making noises; some recordings were comprehensible and some were not. They lasted for around 30 to 60 minutes, then the quadcopters started opening fire and firing bombs in the neighbourhood,” he said.

“We did not go out, because we learned that these were only recordings played by the quadcopters to lure us to go out.

On April 20, Al Jazeera published an interview with a witness to the drone activities at Nuseirat. It is unclear whether this is the same person mentioned in MEE’s reporting, but the testimony is nearly identical.

The accusations against the IDF require the context of their weeklong military incursion into the the Al Nuseirat camp, which was ongoing during this time period and ended April 18.

The Context: An 8-Day Campaign in Northern Gaza

The Al Nuseirat refugee camp is in the northern part of the Gaza Strip. On April 10, the IDF began an eight-day military operation in the area of that camp that resulted in widespread destruction, according to Gaza’s media office. As reported by Turkish news outlet Anadolu Ajansi on April 18:

The Israeli army withdrew from the northern part of the camp on Wednesday following an 8-day military operation. … The civil defense agency said heavy machinery is needed to extract the bodies of dead people from under the debris of destroyed buildings.

According to Gaza’s government media office, 75 people were killed, 348 injured and 100 others went missing during the Israeli operation, in addition to the destruction of 13,000 housing units in the camp.

Palestinians living in Nuseirat Refugee Camp collect the usable items among the rubble of the destroyed buildings after Israel withdrawal on April 18, 2024. Streets and alleys are littered with the rubble of buildings after the devastation by Israeli attacks (Photo via Getty Images).

Valid Skepticism: An Urban Legend Repurposed as Propaganda?

There are reasons to be cautious of these claims. Despite the claim being viewed or shared millions of times, there are few known eyewitnesses to the events. There appears to be only one video purporting to show the drones playing the audio of crying babies.

Despite the appearance of widespread corroboration, the claims as they have been reported can be traced to the words of just a few individuals amplified by activist accounts on social media.

On top of those reasons, it is important to note that the claim that one’s enemy is so evil that they would use the sound of a crying infant as bait is both a long-held urban legend and a propagandistic claim seen leveled against enemy combatants throughout time.

In fact, the IDF leveled a nearly identical and equally unverified claim against Hamas in December 2023, as reported by The Washington Post, going so far as to use it as a defense for their firing on and killing Israeli hostages in the early days of the conflict:

In recent days, the IDF has reported that its soldiers have been hearing recordings of weeping and people speaking Hebrew — attempts, commanders believe, to trick the Israeli soldiers to search for hostages nearby. The IDF has not released those recordings.

Some analysts suggest that wariness of such traps might have been a factor in the IDF’s mistaken killing of three Israeli hostages in Gaza last week — that the troops were spooked and too fast to fire. … “Booby traps, dolls, crying, people speaking Hebrew,” said a lieutenant colonel in an IDF reconnaissance unit. “We have been well-briefed.”

The officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity under rules set by the IDF, said his unit was sent recently to investigate a building in central Gaza where he said rocket parts had been manufactured and some soldiers heard “recordings of crying” but could not find the source. The IDF destroyed the building.

While none of these facts is enough to conclude the drone attacks described by Al Nuseirat camp residents are not real, they are significant enough to merit pause.

Invalid Skepticism: Does the IDF Have This Technology?

While there are valid reasons to be skeptical of the claim, some skeptics have asserted that it is impossible for the IDF to have carried out night attacks using gun- or grenade-mounted quadcopters, as described in media reports. These lines of reasoning are demonstrably flawed.

The IDF has developed a suite of high-tech drones that have regularly been used in the present Gaza conflict. Though the claim of using crying infant audio is new, the claim that drones carrying guns that fire single targeted shots are a part of the IDF arsenal is as old as the present conflict. In November 2023, the Telegraph reported on armed drones “patrolling” around a hospital in northern Gaza:

The Israeli military is using remote-controlled quadcopters equipped with rifles to patrol the perimeter of Gaza’s hospitals, say doctors. Ghassan Abu Sitta, a British-Palestinian surgeon working at the Al Ahli hospital in northern Gaza, said the drones were hovering in “the vicinity of the hospital” and were firing “single bullets.”

“We have had wounded come and say that it’s been firing at people in the streets,” he said in a voice message to The Telegraph on Monday. “We can hear it. This afternoon it was really spooky. It’s like a drone sniper and it flies very low.”

The Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit Systems, which provides quadcopter drones to the IDF, advertises a drone-based, partially AI-informed tactical weapons platform for quadcopter drones known as Bird of Prey. The below description is from a February 2024 release:

The Bird of Prey is an agile, compact and fully stabilized weapon system for drone platforms, designed to enhance infantry squad lethality beyond its detection and engagement range with stand-off warfare capabilities. … The lightweight and foldable system is designed to be carried, deployed, and operated by a single soldier, fitting into an infantry backpack. …

The system supports a range of modular multi-role and multi-caliber armaments while maximizing flight time and mission length. Bird of Prey features advanced algorithms and autonomous capabilities including integrated autonomous target recognition (ATR) to detect, classify and track targets within the field of view (FOV) day and night.

An Elbit video also demonstrates the technology with both gun-mounted and grenade launcher-mounted quadcopter drones. According to this promotion, the system is able to survey and identify targets on its own, but it requires a human to authorize a strike:

This system matches witness accounts of quadcopter drones firing single shots and dropping explosives. Elbit systems and the IDF have historically worked closely on the development of this sort of drone technology.

In 2021, as reported by the Times of Israel, an until-then secret unit of drone operators and soldiers — in conjunction with Elbit systems — tested the offensive use of swarms of drones during an 11-day campaign in Gaza in 2021:

In one use of artificial intelligence, the Israeli military deployed small flocks of quadcopter drones over the southern Gaza Strip with each device monitoring a specific patch of land, The Times of Israel learned at the time. When a rocket or mortar launch was detected, other armed aircraft or ground-based units attacked the source of the fire.

During the 11-day campaign, dubbed Operation Guardian of the Walls, [the] unit worked with the Elbit defense contractor, which manufactured the drones, and other units within the IDF to refine its capabilities in real time.

For these reasons, the claim that a quadcopter drone could operate at night and be armed with a rifle is plausible. For EuroMed Monitor’s part, the group has been critical of the IDF’s drone use since before these April 2024 incidents in Al Nuseirat. In a February 2024 report, the group stated:

Israel’s army has increased its use of electronic-controlled quadcopters — which were previously restricted to use for intelligence purposes — for killing and injuring Palestinians. The Israeli army has escalated its premeditated murders, extrajudicial executions, and judicial killings against Palestinian civilians through direct targeting with snipers and drones in various regions of the Gaza Strip, in addition to aerial and artillery bombardment of residential areas, Euro-Med Monitor said. …

The Israeli army is using small killer drones fitted with machine guns and missiles… which are highly mobile and versatile, i.e. ideal for short-term operations. … These drones have killed dozens of civilians, confirmed Euro-Med Monitor, by firing automatic machine guns mounted beneath the aircraft at random gatherings or by shooting directly at people.

The Bottom Line

There are very few independent accounts that corroborate allegations that the IDF used drones to lure people into their sights with the sounds of infants in distress. The claim is similar to common urban legends and rumors, including one lodged by the IDF against Hamas in December 2023.

These facts alone are not enough to disprove the reality of these events, however, and claims that the IDF does not have technology capable of performing these tasks are misguided.

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Alex Kasprak