The Islamic State in Iraq and the Sham (or Levant), has released a series of photographs that show children training at a camp named after the founder of al Qaeda in Iraq.
The photographs, numbering 18 total, were published on Oct. 17 on the Twitter account of the al-I’tisaam Media Foundation, an official ISIS media outlet, the SITE Intelligence Group, which obtained the images, reported.
The photographs were taken at the “‘al Zarqawi Camp’ and the ‘al Zarqawi Cubs Camp’ in the Damascus Ghouta in Syria,” SITE noted. Ghouta was the scene of the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack on rebel forces and civilians that has been blamed on the Syrian government.
“Several [photos] show children wearing military camouflage clothing and black masks with the [ISIS] banner, and others feature men in black listening to lectures and standing together,” SITE reported.
The ISIS images are similar to videos and photographs of child training camps in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the Turkistan Islamic Party, and the Islamic Jihad Union, an offshoot of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, have released images of young children being trained to wage jihad. Additionally, an unidentified group of jihadists has released video that showed the “cubs of Waziristan” training in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The Turkistan Islamic Party has also released video footage of a camp in Pakistan that focuses on training female jihadists.
The jihadist camp in Syria is named after Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the founder of al Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor of the ISIS. The infamous al Qaeda leader was killed in a US airstrike in June 2006. His network has survived the US surge in Iraq from 2007 to 2009, and despite losing territory and being severely weaken by a combined US and Iraqi offensive, AQI has morphed into the ISIS, relaunched its insurgency in Iraq, and opened up a new front in Syria.
The ISIS is one of the most organized, well-trained, and well-armed of the groups fighting the Assad regime. According to The Washington Post, large numbers of fighters from the Free Syrian Army continue to defect to the ISIS and the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s other affiliate in Syria, due to the al Qaeda groups’ organizational prowess and access to weapons and resources.