The number of training camps operated by jihadists inside Iraq and Syria continues to rise. The Long War Journal has identified more than 100 in the two countries. While not all of these facilities may be currently operational, the proliferation of camps by the Islamic State, the Al Nusrah Front, and other groups poses a regional and global threat.
Since the beginning of 2012, a total of 117 camps have been identified as being operational at one point in time. Of those, 85 have been found in Syria, and 32 in Iraq; 11 are used to indoctrinate and train children.
Some of the jihadist training facilities may no longer be in operation due to changes in fortunes on the battlefield (lost territory, airstrikes, etc.). At least 16 are thought to be closed and 15 to 22 have been hit in Coalition airstrikes. It is unclear if these camps have been destroyed or if they reopened in the same location or elsewhere. It is also likely that there are training sites that have not been advertised.
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.
Since Feb. 6, The Long War Journal has identified 37 new training camps. Of these, 25 are located in Syria while the other 12 are in Iraq.
The Islamic State has operated 57 camps (30 in Iraq, 27 in Syria). The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, has operated 23 camps inside Syria. Allied jihadist groups have run 37 other camps (35 in Syria and two in Iraq); 11 of those camps are run by jihadist groups from the Caucasus, four by Uzbek jihadist groups, two by ethnic Uighurs, and jihadists from Gaza, Morocco, and Kazakhstan each run one camp.
In the past, al Qaeda has used its network of training facilities to train fighters to battle in local insurgencies, identify potential recruits for attacks against the West, and support a host of allied jihadist groups.
List of new camps:
Sixteen of the camps that have been recently identified belong to the Islamic State, the al Qaeda splinter group that now controls significant portions of land in Iraq and Syria. These facilities include:
The Abu Musab al Zarqawi camp. It is located in Iraq’s Ninewa province and is named after the founder of al Qaeda in Iraq, the Islamic State’s predecessor, Abu Musab al Zarqawi. The Islamic State also has camps named after Zarqawi in Kirkuk, Damascus, and in Mosul.
On Feb. 26, Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, the US military command for the airstrikes against the Islamic State, reported that its aircraft hit an Islamic State training camp in Al Qaim in Iraq’s Anbar province.
On Feb. 26, a Twitter account belonging to a female Islamic State member posted photos showing her and other female recruits at a camp for women in Raqqah. The female recruits were learning how to handle handguns and AK-47 assault rifles in the photos.
On March 27, the Islamic State released photos showing a training camp for snipers in the Damascus countryside in Syria. The photos show several snipers training in ghille suits and with SVD sniper rifles.
On April 2, the Islamic State released pictures from Aleppo province showing a relatively large-scale camp. More than a few dozen recruits were shown to be taking part in physical training, weapons training, and learning military tactics. One picture shows recruits learning to how to properly handle machine guns on a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees tarp.
On Apr. 10, photos were released from the Damascus suburb of Qaboun showing an Islamic State training camp there. Around a dozen recruits were shown to be taking part in physical exercises.
The Islamic State showcased a graduating class from the “Abu Musab al Zarqawi camp” in Iraq’s Salahadin province on Apr. 14. The camp is named after the founder of al Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor of the Islamic State. The jihadist group runs other camps named after Zarqawi in Damascus, Syria, and in the Kirkuk and Ninewa provinces of Iraq.
On Apr. 24, the jihadist group highlighted a training camp in its Dijla (Tigris) Province, which is south of its Ninewa province. The camp, named the Al Karar camp, recruits were shown learning how covertly take down enemies with knives, navigate in the Tigris, and learning basic weapons training.
The jihadist group showcased a training camp in Iraq’s Ninewa province on Apr. 30 in a photo set. The photos showed around two dozen recruits taking part in physical exercises, weapons training, and how to navigate a river. Several teenagers appear to be taking part in the training. The camp is named after a jihadist known as Abu Ahmed al Jabouri.
The Islamic State showcased a training camp for Russian speaking fighters somewhere in Anbar province on May 10, 2015. The fighters, according to Joanna Paraszczuk, were being trained to form “death squads” for suicide missions. These fighters are said to have fought in the Apr 26 battle near Lake Thar Thar that left over 100 Iraqi soldiers dead. Umar Shishani’s right hand man, Abu Jihad, as well as a Dagestani preacher make an appearance in the video. The video was produced by the Russian-language Al Furat Media.
On May 17, 2015, the “Ahl al Azm camp” in the Damascus countryside was showcased. More than a dozen recruits were shown undergoing weapons training and the use of technicals.
The Islamic State highlighted a training camp in Hamah province in a video in late May. The camp was featured in a video showing combat operations in the region between Raqqah and Salamiyah. The training camp was again shown in a separate photo report on June 17, 2015.
The Islamic State showcased the the Abdallah bin Omar training facility and school on June 8, 2015. The video featured children learning Arabic, Quran, and taking part in military training. Adults were also shown in classes and taking part in military training, including forced-entry techniques and learning how to clear buildings. Camp is located in the Islamic State’s Wilayat al Jazeera and is probably near Tal Afar.
The Nazar al ‘Asaafi camp in Kirkuk was showcased on June 11, 2015. More than two dozen recruits were shown training with Ak-47’s, technicals, as well as training in water and in wooded areas. the leader of camp was identified as Abu Muhammad.
In the Islamic State’s video to commemorate the one year anniversary of capturing Mosul, a training camp somewhere in Ninewa province was shown. The camp, named Al Jazeera, featured rudimentary physical training structures. Recruits were also shown to how to manufacture IED’s. This facility may be called the “Abu Takah al Ansari” camp.
The Iraqi Interior Ministry said that the air force struck the Abu Musab al Zarqawi camp in Hit on June 17, 2015. The Ministry went on to say that at least 45 militants were killed, including the Tunisian emir and another Chechen commander of the camp. These numbers cannot be independently verified by The Long War Journal.
Six camps were also identified as belonging to the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria. These camps include:
In a video released on Feb. 13, the jihadist group highlighted its gains in Syria. As part of the video, a training camp was shown in the Damascus area. The camp was unnamed, however Al Nusrah said it was training “commandos” in the video.
The Al Nusrah Front showcased the Mullah Omar camp in Hama on Feb. 18, 2015. The photos showed more than a dozen recruits taking part in weapons training. The camp is named after the leader of the Taliban, whom al Qaeda has declared its bayah (loyalty) to.
Russian-speaking Twitter accounts showcased a camp ran by Nusrah in Daraa on March 11, 2015. The accounts are linked to the Chechen-led Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar, the Syrian branch of the al Qaeda-affiliated Caucasus Emirate.
On Apr. 13, Al Nusrah’s Twitter account for its operations in Hama released photos from a training camp in the Hama countryside. The photos show around a dozen recruits taking part in weapons training in an open field.
On Apr. 29, Al Nusrah’s Twitter account for its operations in the Qalamoon mountains released photos from one of its training camps there. More than 50 recruits were shown in the pictures and were featured learning how to conduct infantry tactics and how to use a US-made M113 armored personnel carrier.
Al Nusrah showcased the “Al Mukhtar Camp” in Daraa on May 17, 2015. Photos from the camp showcased over 70 recruits participating in physical and weapons training.
Nine camps have been identified as belonging to jihadist groups allied to the Al Nusrah Front in Syria. These include:
On Feb. 11, Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar released photos from one of its training camps in Aleppo province. The photos showcased more than two dozen recruits undergoing physical training.
In a now deleted video on YouTube, the Islamic Front highlighted a joint-training camp for Liwa al Haqq and Ahrar al Sham, a powerful al Qaeda ally in Syria. The video’s description said the camp is for “mujahideen in Liwa al Haqq and mujahideen in Ahrar al Sham”. The two groups merged on Dec. 8, 2014. The video featured a speech from Abdullah Azzam, the co-founder of al Qaeda and mentor of Osama bin Laden.
In a video released on March 8, 2015, a rudimentary camp ran by the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) was shown. The camp is likely in Idlib province. The TIP in Syria operates alongside Al Nusrah in Idlib and also likely in Aleppo province.
The Abdullah Azzam Brigades, an al Qaeda-affiliated group that operates throughout the Middle East, released photos of a training camp for its “Marwan Hadid Brigade” camp in Syria. The camp is likely near Al Qusayr in Homs province and is named after Majid bin Muhammad al Majid, a Saudi who led the Abdullah Azzam Brigades before his capture and subsequent death. The group is named after the co-founder of al Qaeda and mentor to Usama bin Laden.
Jaish al Islam, a group in the Islamic Front coalition, runs a camp in the Damascus countryside called the Ali bin Abi Talib camp. This camp was promoted on Mar. 12 on YouTube and Twitter. The camp is named after Ali, a follower and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad and one of the Caliphs of the Rashidun Caliphate.
Ahrar al Sham, a powerful al Qaeda-ally in the Islamic Front coalition, was identified to be running a training camp in Homs province. Accounts related to the group in Homs released several images of the “Hama al Riyaah camp” in which several recruits were shown undergoing physical and weapons training exercises.
The Imam Bukhari Jamaat, a group largely comprised of Uzbeks, released a video of a training camp possibly in Idlib on Apr. 11. The video showed around two dozen recruits learning how to properly handle weapons and how to properly administer first aid to wounded fighters, and , training in hand-to-hand combat. The Imam Bukhari Jamaat is allied to the Al Nusrah Front, Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar, and Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad. The group swears bayah (allegiance) to Mullah Muhammad Omar of the Taliban and runs two other camps in Aleppo.
Jaish al Islam, another powerful al Qaeda-allied group in the Islamic Front coalition, showcased another training camp it runs in Syria on Apr. 21. The camp, which showed dozens of recruits, is likely in the Damascus countryside.
On May 8, 2015, Ahrar al Sham released a video showing a training camp in northern Homs province. The recruits shown in the video underwent physical, weapons, and martial arts training. One scene showed recruits learning how to clear buildings. The video also included a short audio statement from Abdullah Azzam.
Are you a dedicated reader of FDD's Long War Journal? Has our research benefitted you or your team over the years? Support our independent reporting and analysis today by considering a one-time or monthly donation. Thanks for reading! You can make a tax-deductible donation here.