Thousands gathered for a rave in the desert in southern Israel.
As they danced into dawn, Hamas fired rockets across the border from Gaza.
CNN Special Report
Hamas attackers choked off avenues of escape from the Nova music festival, swarming the site and killing people hiding in bomb shelters, video analysis and survivor testimony reveals.
Published October 14, 2023
At sunrise on Saturday morning, Hamas gunmen launched hundreds of rockets and breached the border between Gaza and Israel, speeding through farmland towards a psychedelic trance music festival that had continued through the night, into the morning.
Assailants who broke through barricades at the border drove down Route 232, cutting a deadly path through rural kibbutzim communities. They blocked off the road to the festival from the north and the south, before swarming the sprawling site on foot, videos show. Then the militants encircled crowds on three sides like a scythe, gunning them down and forcing them to flee over fields to the east.
The Islamist militant group’s terror attack on the rave was not only highly coordinated, but designed for maximum carnage, the scale and scope of which is only just beginning to come to light now, one week on. Heavily armed gunmen choked off almost all avenues of escape, trapping crowds, while simultaneously targeting shelters where people were hiding, killing them en masse, CNN’s analysis of more than 50 videos and interviews with 13 survivors shows.
Thousands of Israelis and foreign nationals had descended on the Negev desert in southern Israel for the music festival, known as Nova, marking the Jewish holiday Sukkot and touted as an event celebrating “unity and love.”
When the booms of rockets rang out overhead around 6:30 a.m., few noticed over the whomping electronic beats. Others, accustomed to rocket fire from Gaza, thought little of it. But not long after organizers stopped the music, and security ushered people towards the exits, the chaos started.
The split-second decisions revelers made next were ones of life or death.
Many of those who jumped in their cars and drove to nearby bomb shelters were met by militants on the roads, who fired on them at point-blank range and lobbed grenades inside the packed reinforced concrete blocks, according to videos and eyewitness testimony.
Others dispersed into the wilderness, scrambling under cactus scrub and bushes, or covering themselves with sand. They said they were relentlessly hunted for hours, shot at with live gunfire and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and watched helplessly as people were killed or dragged away by armed captors. Several festivalgoers taken hostage by Hamas have since appeared in videos in Gaza.
Revelers who managed to escape ran across open farm fields and along dry riverbeds, as militants fired on them, trekking several miles to the safety of towns further from the border. Most eyewitnesses told CNN they hid for six to 10 hours, before they managed to escape – or authorities and emergency services arrived. Others said they survived by pretending to be dead.
Drawing on video analysis, eyewitness testimony, satellite imagery and reporting by teams on the ground, CNN reconstructed the terror attack, which has emerged as one of the deadliest episodes in Hamas’ unprecedented, multi-pronged assault on Israel by land, sea and air.
CNN has identified at least four bomb shelters on Route 232 – two in Re’im, one in Be’eri and one by Alumim – where dozens of people were killed. More than 260 bodies were found at the Nova festival site itself, according to Israeli rescue service Zaka, but based on CNN’s analysis of several focal points of the massacre, the total death toll could be even higher.
For this investigation, CNN examined over 50 videos filmed by festivalgoers and passersby before, during and after the massacre at Nova festival in Re’im, Israel, on October 7, 2023. Most of these were obtained directly from festival survivors, while some were collected from public Telegram groups, such as South First Responders.
A team of journalists with open-source training verified the videos by geolocating them where possible and checking the metadata for timestamps and GPS coordinates. For those without timestamps, we made estimates of the time of day based on the sunlight, using the website SunCalc. CNN built a map based on those verified videos to understand how the attack unfolded, establish the movement of Hamas militants, and the various ways in which civilians were hunted down as they tried to flee.
The team used a variety of mapping services to help locate the videos, including satellite imagery from an official Israeli government site, Planet Labs, Maxar Technologies, Google maps and Google street view. Reporting from CNN’s Nic Robertson and Muhammed Darwish from the site was also used to corroborate locations and events.
CNN interviewed 12 survivors of the festival, identifying themes that matched both the testimonies and video evidence. One key finding was the systematic killing of those sheltering in nearby bomb shelters. The videos revealed multiple incidents of survivors fleeing to bomb shelters and being killed there.
- Eliza Mackintosh
- Eliza Mackintosh, Gianluca Mezzofiore, Katie Polglase, Allegra Goodwin, Benjamin Brown, Teele Rebane
- Contributing reporters
- Muhammad Darwish, Nic Robertson, Paul Murphy, Elise Zeiger, Courtney Yager, Jeremy Diamond, Amir Tal, Sharif Paget, Kirsten Appleton, Carlotta Dotto
- Visual editors
- Mark Oliver, Henrik Pettersson
- Byron Manley, Kenneth Uzquiano
- Video editors
- Juliette Bahramand, Julie Zink, Connie Chen
- Photo editor
- Brett Roegiers
- Hannah Strange, Kathryn Snowdon