Four new terrorist training camps in Iraq and Syria, three of them operated by the Islamic State, have been identified by The Long War Journal. The identification of these camps, three in Syria and one in Iraq, brings the total number of jihadist-run camps identified in the two countries to 46.
On Nov. 14, US Central Command issued a statement noting that US or coalition airstrikes targeted an Islamic State training camp “east of Raqqah.” That brought the total number of airstrikes against Islamic State training camps near Raqqah to five. Camps near Raqqah were previously struck on Sept. 22, on Sept. 27, on Oct. 3, and again on Oct. 8.
Photographs released on Twitter also purport to show the Islamic State utilizing locations in the city of Mosul, the capital of Iraq’s Ninewa province, for the training of a “special forces unit.” The unit, dubbed Qawat al Muhaam al Khaasa (Special Task Force), has been seen in photographs showing trainees rappelling off of buildings and bridges in Mosul. Some photos also purport to show the graduation of fighters in the unit. In other photographs, American-made weapons such as the M16 are clearly visible. Videos have also been uploaded to YouTube that show the Qawat al Muhaam al Khaasa unit in training.
And in a propaganda video entitled “Race Towards Good,” the Islamic State showcased a training camp that is used exclusively by Kazakh fighters. The exact location of the camp is unclear, but it appears to be near Raqqah. The video showed the fighters receiving physical training and schooling in firearms such as American, Russian, and Austrian-made sniper rifles. The second half of the video showed Kazakh children being taught Arabic, as well as physical and military training. In one scene, a Kazakh child is shown assembling an AK-47 assault rifle. At the end of the video, a Kazakh child recites a speech for the camera, saying, “We’re going to kill you, O kuffar [unbelievers]. Insha’allah [God-willing], we will slaughter you.”
Most recently, another jihadist training camp has been identified in Syria, in the province of Latakia. It is operated by Jamaat Jund al Qawkaz (Caucasus), a group composed of Circassians, Chechens, Dagestanis, and other Caucasian ethnic groups. The group is independent and probably small, but is more than likely affiliated with the Al Nusrah Front, which is al Qaeda’s Syrian branch, and the Caucasus Emirate. It might also be affiliated to Junud al Sham, a predominantly Chechen group led by Muslim Shishani, a specially designated global terrorist. While Jamaat Jund al Qawkaz has officially taken an anti-fitna stance, the group has promoted Al Nusrah propaganda, according to Aymenn al Tamimi. Video has also been uploaded to YouTube showing the Jamaat Jund al Qawkaz unit in training.
In addition to the four camps identified above, more evidence has emerged about another training camp identified by The Long War Journal two months ago. Photos were recently disseminated on Twitter showing a training camp that was run by Abu Yusuf al Turki. As The Long War Journal reported on Sept. 23, online jihadists described al Turki as a commander in the Al Nusrah Front who trained fighters how to become snipers. Al Turki was killed in initial US airstrikes in Syria against the so-called Khorasan Group, a name used by the US government to describe al Qaeda veterans embedded within Al Nusrah. After al Turki was confirmed killed, supporters released a video of his training camp, which is located in or near Aleppo.
Jihadist camps in Iraq and Syria
Since the beginning of 2012, a total of 46 camps have been identified as being operational at some point in time, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal. Information on the camps has been obtained from jihadist videos, news accounts, and US military press releases that note airstrikes against the training facilities. It is unclear if all of the training camps are currently operational. In addition, this analysis is compiled using publicly-available evidence. It is likely that some training camps are not advertised.
Of those camps, 34 are located in Syria and 12 in Iraq.
The Islamic State has operated 25 camps (14 in Syria and 11 in Iraq). Al Qaeda’s Al Nusrah Front has operated nine camps in Syria. Various allied jihadist groups, including Ansar al Islam, Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar, and Junud al Sham, have operated 12 camps (11 in Syria and one in Iraq).
Historically, al Qaeda has used its training facilities to fuel local insurgencies while selecting individuals from the pool of trainees to conduct attacks against the West. [See LWJ report, Jihadist training camps proliferate in Iraq and Syria, for more information on the camps; and Islamist foreign fighters returning home and the threat to Europe, on the threat that jihadists training at camps in Iraq and Syria pose to the West.]
The “Race Towards Good” video showcasing Kazakh Islamic State fighters and their children can be seen below: