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ANALYSIS: The chemical threat from Iran’s specialist training camps

Tony Duheaume

Published: Updated:

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the viewpoint of Al Arabiya English.

If Iran is allowed to gain a solid foothold in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, its main objective will be to project its hegemonic desires further across the region, through the use of loyal militias drafted from each country, a move which the whole world will live to regret.

Because once this is achieved, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ extraterritorial Quds Force, will be able to set up a series of training camps in regions under its control, and using gullible recruits drawn in from Shia neighbourhoods in nearby targeted nations, they will be teach them the principals of guerrilla warfare, the handling of arms, the placing of various explosives for acts of terrorism and assassination, plus teach them the methods of carrying out reconnaissance and information gathering, to give their recruits the ability to strike targets in their homeland.

Once fully trained, it will give the Quds Force through its foreign proxies, the ability to infiltrate lands of their choosing, by using the sleepers they have created from those countries, allowing the regime the ability to strike at its enemies, while at the same time claiming plausible deniability.

When these training camps were first founded in the early 1990s, many of the expert trainers working at these facilities came from North Korea, East Germany, Bulgaria and Vietnam, and also joining their ranks, were members of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, all bringing their own specialist techniques to the training program.

During the days of the Soviet Union, some trainers had received specialist tuition from KGB operatives, and having been carefully versed in the techniques of mind control, they knew exactly how to keep their trainees on track for future suicide missions, through giving them extensive Islamic indoctrination throughout their stay at the camps, feeding their brains with the merits of death and martyrdom, all for the so-called “Shia Islamic cause” conceived by Ali Khamenei.

After the fall of Saddam Hussein, during the time of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, some IRGC training camps were nestled close to the Iraqi border. These facilities were used for manufacturing military ordinance, such as Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) for supply to Iraqi insurgents, while at the same facilities, some of the onsite trainers taught their Iraqi apprentices how to construct IEDs, using components easily available to them in their field of operations.

Around the same time, much intelligence came to light, showing how Iran’s Quds Force was also providing both training and cross-border weapons transfers to Afghan insurgents. Evidence uncovered by US Intelligence pointed to Iran providing new technology in bomb-making to the Taleban, teaching them how to construct less detectable bombs made out of plastic. Iranian trainers were also known to operate inside Afghanistan, mainly in the provinces of Helmand, Farah, Nimroz and Herat.

Throughout the training process, recruits remain with the same instructor, and the same companions until training is complete. During this time, the trainee’s appointed trainer will assess the recruit for his acumen and intelligence, and once selected for the terrorist operation their instructor believes they are capable of carrying out, the novices are then put through whatever specialist training they need to prepare them for their mission.

For penetrating foreign lands, map reading is a must for all recruits; they are also taught how to pass illegally through borders, how to locate targets in strange locations, how to identify their targets, and also the art of both ordinary and infra-red photography. Training also includes communication techniques, the use of various instruments for which to contact their controllers, and the control and management of various forms of communications.

It is also essential for operatives to fit in with local communities, in ways not to cause suspicion, how to infiltrate the meetings, gatherings and various organizations in their target country to pick up intelligence, which all comes under this intensive training. Other lessons include how to befriend people, the power of persuasion, the art of observing targets both human and structural without drawing attention towards oneself, as well as lessons on how to adopt various disguises to thwart being recognized, and how to talk yourself out of awkward situations.

Recruits are also taught how to gather pre-operational intelligence, how to plan escape routes to be free of an area fast, how to infiltrate every form of workplace from factories to airports, and various control rooms, which might later be chosen for a terrorist action. They are also taught how to evaluate security systems before breaking into a building, how to fit bugging devices in penetrated buildings, and how to install various types of listening devices or recording equipment that are needed to listen in on targeted individuals.

Another important area of training is the handling of explosives, how to lay charges in buildings and on bridges for the purpose of detonation, how to handle C4 and other plastic explosives, how to install explosives in a car as a booby trap, how to fit the various triggers for such a device, and how to install bombs at various locations for the purpose of assassination, placing them in areas where they won’t be discovered.

Recruits also go through an initial body building course, followed by the usual personal weapon’s training, how to operate various types of automatic weapons, recoilless rifles, rocket launchers, SA-7 surface-to-air missiles, Sagger antitank missiles, the art of sniping for those having to become an assassin, concealment techniques, and also martial arts training, and unarmed combat.

The art of kidnapping a victim may also be touched upon, picking the best spot for an ambush, how to stop the target’s car with another motor vehicle, the skills of defensive driving, how to eliminate bodyguards, and extract the mark without harming him. But should they find themselves arrested, they are taught how to withstand interrogation techniques, and not to give anything away to their interrogators.

As well as Iraqi Shiite insurgents, al-Qaeda operatives have also been trained at Quds Force facilities. The 9/11 Commission Report concluded that Iranian involvement with al-Qaeda dates as far back to the early 1990s, with intelligence suggesting that talks between al-Qaeda and Iran took place in Sudan, in which a loose partnership was agreed to provide basic support, with training being the main proviso, in their effort to carry out terrorist attacks against the United States and Israel.

No sooner had this deal been agreed upon, al-Qaeda operatives travelled to Iran to receive explosives training at IRGC run training camps. According to intelligence reports, al-Qaeda operatives were training at a Quds IRGC camp in Marivan, which lies close to the border of Iraqi Kurdistan. It also came to light that a group of al-Qaeda operatives had travelled to the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, their destination was a Hezbollah training facility, where they were to receive further training in explosives, and were also taught the fundamentals of intelligence and security.

With Hezbollah being a Shia faction like Iran, but al-Qaeda being Sunni, in normal situations, both sides would be deemed fervent enemies. But in wars such as Iraq and Afghanistan, or striking back against the U.S. and Israel, it was a case of my enemy’s enemies are my enemies, and as far as their hatred of the United States is concerned, with both groups wanting to see US troops completely out of the Middle East, both sides came together as reluctant comrades.

After the 2003 Iraq War had so-called “officially” ended, the U.S. and its allies became bogged down in a vicious guerrilla war, and it was during this period that the Quds Force was able to practice its tactics of asymmetric warfare on a vast scale, and through proxy groups they had trained in insurgency, were able to inflict terrible casualties on their enemies.

One notable member of al-Qaeda who had fled to Iran from Afghanistan during the U.S. invasion of the country in 2001, who was known to have received terrorist training at IRGC facilities in Iran, was the one-time leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), Musab Zarqawi, who having entered the country with other top al-Qaeda commanders, was said to have been harboured by the IRGC.

Zarqawi, who was later killed during a U.S. airstrike in Iraq in 2006, was regarded as something of an expert in chemical and biological weapons, expertise of which he would most certainly have shared with his Iranian trainers. But as far as Zarqawi’s chemical weapons expertise was concerned, he was known to have been experimenting on animals with aerosolized ricin, perfecting ways to deliver lethal doses to a large number of people. At one point, he was planning a series of chemical attacks in Europe, which were due to have taken place between December 2002 and February 2003, but luckily for Europe the plot was foiled.

It was in 2002, the Jordanians announced that they had thwarted a plot by Zarqawi to attack the U.S. embassy and the Jordanian General Intelligence Department (GID) in central Amman on April 24, 2004. According to the Jordanians, Zarqawi’s network was planning to use trucks packed with 20 tons of chemicals and explosives, which would have released a massive cloud of poisonous gas, with the potential to kill as many as 80,000 people.

But one thing that has to be remembered, AQI was the predecessor of ISIS, and after the Americans had killed Zarqawi, much of its old leadership had been involved in the forming of the new group, and with many of these commanders having shared Zarqawi’s expertise in chemical dispersion, they were likely to already have been known Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, and to have connections with training programs themselves.

So as far as ISIS is concerned, once it has been chased out of both Syria and Iraq, and is in need of training facilities, as well as somewhere to lay low, it’s always possible that at some point in the future, its most prominent leaders could turn up on Iran’s doorstep seeking refuge, especially if Tehran is facing a major backlash from the West, and needs an extra terror force to aid it in its strike back; a point when chemical weapons might once again become a weapon of choice.