AQAP's "Special Forces" Training Camp
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has released a video showing the Hamza al Zinjibari training camp for its “special forces.” The video was produced by both AQAP’s Al Malahem Media, as well as Ansar al Sharia’s Morasil (Correspondent). Ansar al Sharia is another front for AQAP in Yemen.
The camp, which is named after the former military leader of AQAP, appears to be within a large compound in an area controlled by the jihadist group, likely in southern Yemen, where it is the strongest. The US killed Zinjibari, who is also known as Jalal Bala’idi, in a drone strike in February 2016. Zinjibari was a prominent field commander in the provinces of Abyan, Bayda, Hadramout, Lahj, and Shabwa. He led AQAP’s takeover of the town of Jaar in December 2015.
In the AQAP video, fighters and recruits are shown undergoing weapons and physical training, live fire exercises, as well as training in martial arts. The fighters are also trained to conduct assaults and kidnappings using vehicles.
The bulk of the training may be held indoors to avoid detection from US drones.
Senior AQAP leaders, including Khalid Batarfi and Ibrahim al Qosi, give speeches in the video.
Qosi, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee explains that “among the important goals of al Qaeda training camps is training any Muslim who wants to be trained in weaponry and skills of war. So thousands of Mujahideen have benefited from these camps and had a clear impact in different jihadi fronts.” In Yemen, he continues, training camps have “produced thousands from different tribes and areas, Muhajireen [emigrants, or foreign fighters] and Ansar [local fighters].”
Even though they are trained in al Qaeda’s camps, the organization does not “impose upon the trainee to work in our organization or to be bound by us,” Qosi states. In doing so, he says the goal of al Qaeda is to “advance the standards of the Ummah [worldwide Islamic community].”
Qosi has become a prominent fixture in AQAP’s propaganda since last December, when he first revealed that he is a senior leader in the group. Since then, he has been featured in several videos of the group and likely serves in a larger capacity in al Qaeda’s global hierarchy. [See LWJ report, Ex-Guantanamo detainee prominently featured in al Qaeda propaganda.]
Members of the “special forces battalion” also spoke directly to the United States.
“We have indeed prepared for you that which will inflict you pain,” a special forces member states. “As for your killing of Hamza [al Zinjibari], you have indeed given life to an Ummah that is risen and awaken by the blood of the martyrs. O America, if you are truly men then descend upon the battle and the field of men.” Another fighter exclaims that they will “make you [America] taste much greater from what you tasted in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia.”
Khalid Batarfi, who has risen in AQAP’s command structure and who has been targeted by US drones in the past, states that “this camp is an extension of the training camps of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan since the 1980s”
“It is an extension of the Sad’a, Furqan, Sadiq, Khalden, and Jihad Wal camps,” he notes, naming prominent camps in Afghanistan. Batarfi continues by saying that these camps have produced not hundreds, but “thousands of commanders in Jihad.”
Before the video ends, Qosi notes that while the US succeeded in killing Zinjibari, “you are far away from reaching your goals.” He goes on to explain that the organization has grown militarily since the death of Zinjibari and that America should go “die in your rage.”
Qosi echoes sentiments of the Afghan Taliban in the wake of Mullah Mansour’s death in a US drone strike in Pakistan two months ago, as well as comments made by Hamza bin Laden. After the US killed Mansour, Taliban said that it is able to thrive despite the loss of senior leaders. Hamza, in a recently released video, noted that al Qaeda has expanded its operations despite the loss of key leaders.
Screenshots from the video:
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal. Caleb Weiss is an intern at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to The Long War Journal.