Several jihadist groups operating in Iraq and Syria continue to showcase facilities used to train their fighters. Since Dec. 1, seven new camps have been identified by The Long War Journal. Of the seven, six are in Syria and one is in Iraq. This brings the total number of training camps identified in Iraq and Syria to 64.
The facility in Iraq, called the “Abu Hamza al Muhajir camp,” is run by the Islamic State. Located in Fallujah, the camp is named after the former emir of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al Masri (his nom de guerre was Abu Hamza al Muhajir). He headed the group from 2006 to 2010 after its founder, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, was killed in a US airstrike in 2006. Al Masri and Abu Omar al Baghdadi, the previous leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, were killed by US and Iraqi forces in 2010.
The “Cubs of the Caliphate camp” in Syria is also operated by the Islamic State. Photographs of the facility, which was advertised by the jihadist group on Dec. 6, show various children training with weapons, martial arts, and in sharia law. This camp is just the latest in a long list of training centers run exclusively for children in Iraq and Syria. [For more on children’s camps in Iraq and Syria, see LWJ report, Jihadists tout training camps for children in Iraq and Syria.]
The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, released pictures of one of its training camps in Hama province on Dec. 7. The photos, which were released on the group’s official Twitter page for Hama operations, show Al Nusrah recruits learning how to storm a building. The Al Nusrah Front is now known to operate two camps in Hama.
The Ansar al Din Front uploaded images of three camps; one which was previously identified and two others that have not been disclosed. The front is a coalition of jihadist groups that was founded in July by the Chechen Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar, the Moroccan Harakat Sham al Islam, the predominately Saudi Katibat al Khadra (which has merged with Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar), and the Syrian Harakat Fajr al Sham al Islamiya. The pictures, uploaded on Dec. 1, show training camps run by Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar in Aleppo, Harakat Sham al Islam in Latakia, and Harakat Fajr al Sham al Islamiya in Aleppo. The Harakat Sham al Islam camp has been previously identified. Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar and Harakat Fajr al Sham al Islamiya previously publicized other camps in Syria. [For more information, see LWJ reports, Harakat Sham al Islam operates training camp in northwest Syria and Jihadist training camps proliferate in Iraq and Syria]
The Imam Bukhari Jamaat, an Uzbek jihadist group which operates in Aleppo province and is an Al Nusrah Front ally, uploaded a video on Dec. 5 to its Vimeo account that details a new training facility. The actual location of the camp is unknown. The video shows the recruits receiving weapons, martial arts, and physical training. The Imam Bukhari Jamaat is known to operate two camps in Syria. In mid November, the Uzbek group swore allegiance to Mullah Omar and the Taliban, and it is likely that Imam Bukhari Jamaat has links to the Taliban and al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which operates in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The IMU also recruits for an Uzbek faction within the Al Nusrah Front.
Jaish al Islam (Army of Islam), a jihadist group that is part of the Islamic Front, released a picture of a training camp in “northern Syria” on its Twitter account on Dec. 23. The exact location of the camp was not disclosed, but it is likely to be situated in Idlib province, the headquarters of the Islamic Front. The Islamic Front is a powerful Islamist coalition that also includes al Qaeda ally Ahrar al Sham. The group, which is led by Zahran Alloush, operates mainly in Damascus. Two other camps operated by Jaish al Islam have been previously identified in Damascus and in Daraa in southern Syria.
Jihadist training camps in Iraq and Syria
Since the beginning of 2012, a total of 64 camps have been identified as being operational at one point in time. Of those camps, 49 are in Syria, and 15 are in Iraq. Eight of these camps are used to indoctrinate and train children. Information on the camps has been obtained from jihadist videos and images, 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. It is likely that there are training camps that have not been advertised.
The Islamic State operates 30 camps (14 in Iraq, 16 in Syria). The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, operates or has operated 14 camps inside Syria. Allied jihadist groups run 20 other camps (19 in Syria and one in Iraq); nine of those camps are run by jihadist groups from the Caucasus, two by an Uzbek jihadist group, and jihadists from Gaza, Morocco, and Kazakhstan each run one camp.
In the past, al Qaeda has used its network of camps not only to train fighters to battle in local insurgencies, but also to identify potential recruits for attacks against the West as well as support a host of allied jihadist groups.