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Life inside an Islamic State training camp

By Monali Sarkar
March 10, 2017 08:53 IST
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As they capture back Mosul from Islamic State, Iraqi and American forces discover an underground train tunnel that was turned into an assault course by IS for its elite fighters.

IS training Mosul

Iraqi forces discovered an underground training camp -- based on tip-offs from locals -- in the early stages of the campaign to dislodge Islamic State terrorists from West Mosul.

The mouth of the tunnel is hardly visible on a muddy hillside overlooking Mosul, where fighting now rages between Iraqi and American forces and IS fighters.

In less turbulent times, trains ran through it on their way to or from Mosul, but when IS overran the area in the summer of 2014, it barricaded both ends, ripped up the tracks and built an assault course inside, on which to train its recruits.

Photograph: Alaa Al-Marjani/Reuters

IS training

The tunnel -- about 7 metres high by 5 metres wide, and around half-a-kilometre in length -- features a series of obstacles, which one soldier tried out.

"Their training is similar to ours," said Kadhem al-Gharrawi, a member of the Rapid Response Division, an elite Iraqi unit. "It's tough training for special forces."

Photograph: Alaa Al-Marjani/Reuters

Lead IS Training

The physical drills complemented IS's ideological training, evidence of which is contained in booklets littering the floor of the tunnel, detailing its uncompromising doctrine.

A leaflet titled Types of Idolatry was found beside empty cartons of orange juice drunk by the recruits and packaging of the boots and balaclava headgear they wore.

Photograph: Alaa Al-Marjani/Reuters

IS Training camp in Mosul

Near the start of the assault course lie several backpacks full of sand, which were worn by recruits to weigh them down as they went over the obstacles, to increase the difficulty.

After coming off the death slide, recruits would have swung along monkey bars and then thrown themselves flat to crawl under barbed wire, past the words 'We will prevail despite the global Crusader alliance' painted on the wall.

Photograph: Alaa Al-Marjani/Reuters

Islamic State training

Red arrows point to the direction in which they were supposed to scramble over a wall -- still covered in scuff marks made by their boots.

The recruits appear to have slept here some of the time: Bedding is strewn in two chambers dug into the sides of the tunnel, including a pink duvet cover decorated with Mickey Mouse.

Photograph: Martyn Aim/Getty Images

IS training in Mosul

The IS recruits also installed lighting in the tunnel, powered by a generator set in the hillside.

There was a medical clinic in a portacabin, as well as four shower cubicles and a place to perform ablutions before prayers in a tunnel section labelled mosque.

Another area was designated for washing dishes, not far from the slogan: 'Heaven is jihad in the path of God.'

Photograph: Alaa Al-Marjani/Reuters

Islamic State slogan

A view of Islamic State slogans painted along the walls of the tunnel. 'By the will of God, we will conquer Rome,' reads this one.

Photograph: Martyn Aim/Getty Images

IS training tunnel Mosul

It is not clear how many recruits passed through the camp or what became of them.

Photograph: Alaa Al-Marjani/Reuters

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Monali Sarkar /