The Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham, the former al Qaeda branch that was disowned by Al Qaeda General Command, has announced the existence of the “Zarqawi Camp” on the outskirts of the Syrian capital of Damascus.
The Zarqawi training camp is named after Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the Jordanian jihadist who founded al Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham. Zarqawi was killed in a US airstrike outside of Baqubah, Iraq, in June 2006.
The Al Baqiya Media Foundation, “an unofficial media affiliate” of the ISIS, announced the camp’s existence in a 45-minute video that was released in late April, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which obtained and translated the video. The camp is located in Eastern Ghouta, a district on the outskirts of the Syrian capital.
“Footage of the camp shows fighters running through obstacle courses; engaging in target practices and gun firing exercises, kidnapping, disarming, and maneuvering; and participating in hand-to-hand combat drills,” SITE reported. The fighters are also seen studying sharia, or Islamic law, as well as distributing aid to children.
The Zarqawi Camp is the fourth such camp disclosed by jihadist groups in Syria in the past two months. In mid-March, the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, announced that it is running two training camps in Syria. Its Ayman al Zawahiri Camp is located in the city of Deir al Zour and is named after al Qaeda’s current emir. The other camp, whose location was not disclosed, is called the Abu Ghadiya Camp and is named after the leader of the al Qaeda in Iraq facilitation network that was based in eastern Syria. Abu Ghadiya was killed in a US special operations raid in eastern Syria in the fall of 2008.
In the beginning of April, the Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar (Army of Emigrants and Supporters, or Muhajireen Army), a group of foreign fighters led by commanders from the Caucasus, released video of its training camp in Aleppo province. The video included footage of a bomb-making class.
The videos from ISIS, Al Nusrah Front, and Muhajireen Army training camps are reminiscent of others released by al Qaeda from the network of camps in Afghanistan during the 1990s. Al Qaeda used camps such as Khalden and Al Farouq to churn out thousands of foreign fighters who fought alongside the Taliban in the 55th Arab Brigade. But al Qaeda also selected graduates of the camps to conduct attacks in the West, including the Sept. 11, 2001 operation against the US.
The ISIS, although not officially part of al Qaeda since its dispute with the Al Nusrah Front boiled over earlier this year, has still indicated that it seeks to conduct attacks against the United States and the West.