The Long War Journal has identified three new training camps operated by jihadists in Syria. The camps are run by the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria; the so-called “Khorasan Group” within Al Nusrah; and a Chechen jihadist group known as Khalifat Jamaat. This brings the total number of jihadist camps discovered in Iraq and Syria to 42.
In an undated video posted to Facebook on Nov. 6, a camp affiliated with the Al Nusrah Front was shown in the Damascus countryside. The video is likely older as the group’s logo in the upper right is no longer used in official propaganda. Nevertheless, Al Nusrah likely still runs the camp or one nearby as it still operates in the city and wider province.
The second camp is affiliated with the Khorasan Group, which is a group of veteran Al Qaeda operatives embedded within Al Nusrah (as such, Khorasan Group camps are labeled under Al Nusrah in the accompanying map above). US Central Command released a press statement saying that airstrikes targeted “IED-making facilities and training facilities” near Samarda, Idlib on Nov. 5, 2014.
The third camp is affiliated with a Chechen jihadist group called Khalifat Jamaat. According to From Chechnya to Syria, a website that tracks North Caucasian fighters in Syria, Khalifat Jamaat has an estimated 80 to 90 Chechen fighters in its ranks and operates out of the northwestern province of Latakia. This group split from the Islamic Front’s Ansar Sham earlier this year. Its leader, Abdul Hakim Shishani, is a veteran of the fighting in Chechnya.
Jihadist camps in Iraq and Syria
Since the beginning of 2012, a total of 42 camps have been identified as being operational at some point, 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 in operation. In addition, this analysis is compiled using publicly-available evidence. It is likely that some training camps are not advertised.
Of those camps, 31 have been located in Syria and 11 in Iraq.
The Islamic State has operated 22 camps (12 in Syria and 10 in Iraq). The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch, 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 11 camps (10 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.]
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“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.”
And this is why we have to care in the short term.