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Noa Argamani became the face of the Nova music festival hostages

BE’ER SHEVA, Israel — The video of her kidnapping has been seen around the world. 

A hand outstretched, terror etched on her face, screaming as she is carried away on the back of a motorcycle, the roughly 10-second clip became an instant symbol of Israel’s hostage crisis. 

But more than two months after Noa Argamani was abducted from the Supernova, or Nova, music festival during the Oct. 7 terrorist attack, she remains a captive in Gaza. Even as other young civilian women were released during a weeklong ceasefire in November, there has been no sign of Argamani. 

NBC News has uncovered information indicating she may not have been kidnapped by Hamas, but was instead most likely abducted by a mob of Gazans that swept into Israel hours after the initial attack. That may explain why she was not released during the November cease-fire: Hamas may not be holding her, or even know where she is.   

Argamani is among 14 female civilians who have yet to be released by their captors. More than two months after she was taken hostage, friends and family are growing more desperate to know her fate, and why she hasn’t been freed alongside about 100 others. 

Noa Argamani is pictured with her friend Noa Stern in one of Argamani’s favorite places in Be’er Sheva before she was taken hostage.Supplied to NBC News

“When you see someone you love so much and a person that is so close to you in this situation, you just get crazy,” Amir Moadi, 29, a roommate and friend of Argamani’s, said in an interview. “Because there’s nothing you can do.”   

While it’s known Hamas terrorists took hostages during the attack, who took Argamani is less clear, according to text messages, phone records, satellite images and human sources, as well as an NBC News analysis of the sun’s position during her abduction. The information indicates that she may not have been seized by Hamas militants at all, and instead may have been taken by another group of men who followed trained Hamas fighters out of the blockaded Palestinian enclave into Israel.

Moadi realized Argamani had been taken from the Nova music festival near Re’im when he saw the video that sent shockwaves around the world. He watched the footage of his close friend being driven away and reaching out toward her boyfriend, Avinatan Or, as their assailants marched him behind her. Israeli officials say that as many as 350 people were killed at the festival.

Noa Argamani.
Noa Argamani.via Facebook

A second video posted to social media on Oct. 7 showed Argamani, who turned 26 in captivity, sitting on a sofa drinking from a water bottle. Two people with bare feet could be seen walking behind her. It gave some of her friends hope she was OK.

“It’s crazy to say, but … I was thankful that she’s not dead because I saw other videos and I saw what happened to other people,” Moadi said. 

For Argamani’s loved ones, efforts to free her feel like a race against time because her mother, Liora, has terminal brain cancer, Moadi said. They are desperate to know why she wasn’t among those exchanged in an extended hostage-prisoner swap before talks between Israel and Hamas collapsed on Dec. 1. 

‘Can’t get out’

As news of Hamas’ attack — in which 1,200 people were killed and 240 taken hostage, according to Israeli officials — spread throughout Israel early on Oct. 7, Argamani and Or’s loved ones began to worry for their safety. They knew they were around 3 miles  from the border with Gaza. 

A flurry of text messages reviewed by NBC News reveals the couple’s and their friends’ mounting panic.

In a photo sent to a friend at 7:46 a.m., about an hour after Hamas began its attack, Argamani, a data science engineering student, can be seen smiling and making a peace sign, reassuring worried friends. The photo was sent by another friend who had attended the festival  — Ori Tchernichovsky, 29, who would later be killed. 

At some point before his death, friends said Tchernichovsky’s phone history revealed he had a  roughly 7-minute call with Argamani, but it is unclear what was said. Tchernichovsky’s friends learned about the call when his phone was returned to his family after he was found dead.

Avinatan Or takes a photo as he and Noa Argamani hide from attackers at the Nova festival on Oct. 7.
Avinatan Or takes a photo as he and Noa Argamani hide from attackers at the Nova festival on Oct. 7.Supplied to NBC News

At 8:10 a.m., Argamani messaged a different friend, saying she was in a parking lot and “can’t get out.” Her friend warned her to “hide,” adding: “Let me know that everything is o.k.” 

At 9:08 a.m., Argamani sent that friend a live location, saying she hoped “somebody will come and save us.”

Or, Argamani’s boyfriend, sent a selfie to another friend at 9:24 a.m., fear written on his face. Argamani lies huddled in the fetal position in front of him as they hide from their attackers. “It’s crazy here,” he messaged.

At 9:32 a.m., Or told his friend there were around 20 people looking for anyone hiding so they could “lynch them.” Later, he said the attackers were finding people and killing them one by one.

The last message he sent his friend was delivered at 10:19 a.m., thanking them for letting him know that authorities were either at the festival site or on the way. 

The last message NBC News has seen sent by Argamani was delivered at 10:27 a.m., after a friend told her she heard others had been able to escape the festival site in a vehicle. “We don’t have a car,” Argamani said. 

Or’s friend, Dolev Kikos, 27, said his messages were going through as of 10:43 a.m. But they appeared undelivered shortly after, suggesting Or’s phone was either dead or turned off. 

A still from video shows Avinatan Or as he appears to be captured In Israel by a group of men on Oct. 7, 2023.
A still from video shows Avinatan Or as he appears to be captured In Israel by a group of men on Oct. 7, 2023.via Telegram

The analysis of the sun and shadows that appear in the video of the couple’s capture suggests that Or and Argamani were most likely kidnapped several hours into the attack and closer to midday than sunrise, when the attack began.

Holding out hope

Argamani’s friends said they felt hopeful last month when a deal to free hostages in Gaza amid a cease-fire was repeatedly extended. More than 100 people were released over seven days. But on Dec. 1, their hopes were shattered when the truce fell apart. 

“She just slipped from the fingers,” Yan Gorjaltsan, a close friend of Argamani’s told NBC News. 

“Every one of us imagined her back home,” Gorjaltsan, 27, told NBC News as he sat with a group of friends in one of Argamani’s favorite places in her hometown of Be’er Sheva — a sandy hill overlooking the Negev desert where she would often go alone to find peace or unwind.

“We saw her with us again,” he said.

The cease-fire also brought hope to Argamani’s mother and father, Yaacov Argamani, who were desperate to see their only child reunited with Liora, whose condition continues to deteriorate.

By the time the cease-fire fell apart, the number of hostages held in Gaza had fallen from 240 to less than 140. Of those, the majority are men who were never part of the hostage deal, as well as at least 19 women, 14 of whom are civilians. 

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