Anti-ship Warfare And Molotov Cocktails At The Siege Of Acre, 1190

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 9

Translated by Jamestown Staff

Translator’s Introduction

The following translation written by the anonymous author “The Brother of Him that Obeys God” was published in the April 17 issue of the online military magazine Mu’askar al-Battar (Al-Battar Training Camp). As stated in a editorial in the eighth volume of the journal, “Al-Battar Training Camp is a new magazine of the military committee of the al-Qaeda organization … and it is given as a gift to the youth of Islam whose hearts burn in support of the religion by means of Jihad for the sake of Allah”. The name ‘al-Battar’ comes from the alias of Sheikh Yusuf Al-‘Ayyiri, formerly an al-Qaeda leader in Saudi Arabia and Osama bin Laden’s personal bodyguard. Active in establishing training camps throughout the Arabian Peninsula, Al-Ayyiri was killed in 2003 during a clash with Saudi security forces.

The article, entitled “Anti-ship Warfare”, illustrates the effective use of small-scale weaponry against enemy vessels throughout history. The author relates the story of the siege of Acre in the Third Crusade, during which time the Muslim defenders of the city held off the ships of Richard the Lionheart’s navy by the use of naphtha, a type of explosive incendiary compound that burst into flames when launched against enemy vessels. Known as ‘Greek Fire‘ because it was invented by the Syrian-Greek architect Callinicus, the incendiary missile was propelled by means of special tubes or ‘siphons’. Enumerating the various types of war materiel, the author laments how Muslims, most often outgunned by the enemy, lose morale. He then highlights the value of counter-weaponry, its affordability and availability, pointing to the modern Molotov Cocktail as an example of how expensive weaponry can be overcome by far more modest means.

The lesson is then extended to the mujahideen in Afghanistan, their use of RPGs against helicopters and SAMs against jet airplanes. The author finally gives details on how to prepare a Molotov Cocktail for use in combat. This article provides important insight into the tactics and mindset of al-Qaeda operatives and gives a perspective on the larger discussion of asymmetrical responses to Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) capable forces.

The greatest number of technical developments affecting the life of mankind have occurred in the realm of military technological, or devices designed for use in war. It has been the case in the past and is still the case today. And no wonder, since war is an inseparable part of human activity and the life of man. It is a universal practice into which God has placed great benefits, some of which are mentioned in His book: And if Allah had not repelled some men by others the earth would have been corrupted. [1]

If we take a look at the tools of war available to man from of old, we see mobile, transportable devices, and immobile ones such as trenches, fortresses, citadels, great ramparts and the like. As for transportable devices, these were limited in ancient times to what a man could carry by way of weaponry, or to mounts that he could ride and employ in the fray. The sea was the exception [to this limitation], in that he employed military vessels and ships in battle. One might consider battleships the greatest mobile military device that man has used up until the modern age.

Anyone looking into military history would plainly observe the element of technical development in the means of war. One such development was that which we experienced in the past at the siege of Acre, an aspect of which we will take up here today.

At the siege of Acre the Europeans [2] employed large battleships fitted with multi-story towers transporting soldiers and their weapons. These played a great role in tightening the siege around the fortified citadel of Acre, and in dominating the sea. The sea was, and still is, a grand arena for the pursuit of fighters and for decisive battles. Some of the great days of Arab conquests were fought at sea, such as Dhat al-Sawari [3] and Dhat al-Salasil [4] – or the destruction of the destroyer USS Cole, and the strike against the French oil tanker, and others.

Muslims have suffered anxieties from these imposing military devices that encircle them, and against which their own means avail them not. Perhaps their impact on morale and spirit is twice as strong as their tactical influence.

In circumstances such as these, the importance of counter-measures comes to the fore. One of the most significant elements of military power is high density military materiel capable of being transported either by sea, as was done in the past, or overland or by air, as occurs in this age of planes, armoured vehicles, tanks and mechanised transport.

Counter-measures are the weaponry that destroys this force upon which the enemy relies, and which expels it from the battlefield. Counter-measures are to the military materiel they target what guerrilla fighters are to regular forces; they are lightweight weapons, inexpensive and of simple construction. Nevertheless they can destroy weaponry that is intricate, expensive and of complex construction.

One of the most celebrated counter-measures is the RPG (rocket propelled grenade) missile that targets armoured military vehicles and which, God permitting, is capable of destroying them; even highly developed tanks, and armour reinforcement, which it was claimed – when first manufactured – that RPGs were unable to destroy. It appears that it has its weak points when the missile strikes it in a certain way.

It will be recalled that the Soviet Union had cause to regret its manufacture of RPGs, after having to suffer heavy and irreplaceable losses. For the RPG missile, costing tens of dollars, can destroy a 100 million dollar tank! And two of them can destroy two tanks! There is simply no relation between the volume of loss, and the effort or cost expended to achieve this loss. The fact of the matter is that counter-measures in general, and RPGs in particular, are a blessing granted by God to guerrilla fighters. They do not possess the machinery or tanks that remain vulnerable to these counter-measures, while the enemy is incapable of functioning without this machinery – which presents a target that couldn’t be more ideal.

One such counter-measure is the SAM 7 missile, examples of which the mujahideen demonstrated at the ‘Badr of Riyadh’. [5] These are effective counter-weapons against helicopters. [This reputation is not harmed by] some cases of failure when employed against jet aircraft, for mujahideen in Chechnya have recorded many instances where they were indeed able to down sophisticated jet aircraft by use of SAM 7 rockets.

Other examples of counter-weaponry are those that form our subject here, namely naphtha, used at the siege of Acre. With this the Muslims were able to spoil the attack of the Crusaders and escape their evil. They achieved this by means of a device invented by a Muslim mujahid, whose story we will come to later.

This incident at the siege of Acre demonstrated the importance of counter-weaponry and the importance of thought, action and preparation in their manufacture. This is particularly so when consideration is given to what the enemy possesses, and the methods of reinforcement they employ to achieve their target. For to every locked door there is a key, to every fortress a way in, to every armour a point of weakness.

When the Muslims were besieged in Acre by these Crusader battleships – which were constructed in four stories, of wood, lead, iron and copper – they suffered great anxiety at the gravity at what was befalling them. But God brought unto them a gifted youth from Damascus. As [the historian] Ibn Athir states in his work Al-Kamil, he was “avid in the collection of Naphtha-thrower devices, and in the devising of concoctions for intensifying the action of fire”. And as is usual among those who are inimical to things unknown, “his acquaintances criticised him for this and reprimanded him for it”. Naphtha was employed as an anti-battleship weapon at that period, and the boy was passionate about its manufacture. And it was Almighty God who brought this fellow, for he was present at Acre when it was besieged, and God willed that the unbelievers should be defeated. For until the arrival of this youth, the naphtha-throwers had done what they could to burn the Crusader ships, but had been unsuccessful.

If this story alerts us to the military importance of counter-weapons, it also reminds us of the importance of oil used in this counter-weapon, and of the petroleum derivatives used today in what are termed ‘Molotov Cocktails’. The idea behind these is a mixture of two substances: a quick-igniting substance and a slow-burning substance, added to an absorptive property that aids its adhesion to structures. The first provides for the first ignition spark, the second for the elongation of the burning after its attachment to the target. Perhaps this is what was meant in the phrase “devising of concoctions for intensifying the action of fire”, since the intensity of the heat is of no great effect if the fire goes out quickly. Rather, it is effective when the burning period is extended – which is the idea behind the Molotov Cocktail.

If we look at the towers targeted by the naphtha at the siege of Acre, we find that they were coated with fire-hindering substances. What it was that youth did God alone knows, but he must have mixed with the fire agent something which extended the burning period and aided the speedy adhesion of the fire to the tower. And this is, effectively, the Molotov Cocktail.

The Molotov Cocktail is one of the easiest weapons to make; also one of the easiest to make relative to the high level of its effectiveness. For it consists simply of a mixture of two or three substances – Benzine and Alfalin [6] – and is easy to put together. This weapon has a number of distinguishing features:

– it is easy to practice with, in that it does not cause explosive noise. This means you can practice on it even close to inhabited areas;

– its ingredients are readily available, access to them cannot be restricted nor their importation prevented;

– it involves no significant expense; indeed they may be obtained more easily than the oppressor [government] apparatuses can obtain a single bullet.

It is also noted for its effectiveness against individuals, and against military machinery, which its fire can adhere to easily.

The above-mentioned mixture is placed in a bottle that can shatter easily, and a wick of ordinary cloth is inserted. The fighter sets fire to the wick so that it contacts the mixture inside, which scatters when the glass is shattered, so that it sticks to and burns what it comes into contact with.

We ask God to grant us power over the necks of the Crusaders and the Apostates [7], and grant us the means to massacre the enemies of The Faith. May God pray for and keep safe His servant and messenger Muhammad, his Family, Companions and Followers.


The following notes are from the translator, not included in the original text

[1] Qur’an, II, 251.

[2] Text: al-Rum; literally ‘Romans’, but which in the mediaeval period the Arabs used to denote Byzantine Greeks. The author of this discussion loosely uses the term to denote Europeans in general.

[3] The naval engagement fought at Dhat el-Sawari, in 656, where a large Byzantine fleet was broken up by ‘Abd Allah bin Sa’id, who had constructed a fleet from Syrian wood for the purpose.

[4] Actually a land campaign fought near the Well of Salsal, by the Prophet in 629 against Byzantine-allied tribes on the Syrian border.

[5] The attack by al-Qaeda on the al-Muhayya compound in Riyadh on 8 November 2003, in which SAM and RPG missiles were employed. A total of 18 were killed and 120 injured during the assault. The term ‘Badr’ comes from the Battle of Badr fought in March 624, the first of the significant battles fought by the Prophet.

[6] Sic, in text. Possibly for ethyl or methyl alcohol.

[7] By which the author means Arab governments.