The mysterious link between the US military prison Camp Bucca and ISIS leaders

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A flag of the Islamic State (IS) is seen on the other side of a bridge at the frontline of fighting between Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Islamist militants in Rashad, on the road between Kirkuk and Tikrit, on September 11, 2014. (Photo: AFP-JM Lopez)

By: Mohammed Mahmoud Mortada

Published Saturday, September 13, 2014

Beyond conspiracy theories – which are often justified in an era where everything appears as though it is part of a plan or a scheme – we have the right to ask why the majority of the leaders of the Islamic State (IS), formerly the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), had all been incarcerated in the same prison at Camp Bucca, which was run by the US occupation forces near Omm Qasr in southeastern Iraq.

In the context of conspiracy theories, there are a lot of rumors about links between IS and the US intelligence or affiliated organizations. But to what extent are these theories credible? Is there evidence that corroborate them?

These questions seem legitimate, provided that ready-made answers are not accepted without convincing evidence. However, it is difficult to get this kind of evidence, and we might need another Edward Snowden or WikiLeaks to learn the real truth about the relationship between IS and US intelligence.

Yet not having this evidence should not prevent us from trying to gather some clues that may not amount to definitive evidence, but which will no doubt question the narrative that fully exonerates US intelligence from involvement with the jihadis.

First of all, most IS leaders had passed through the former U.S. detention facility at Camp Bucca in Iraq. So who were the most prominent of these detainees?

The leader of IS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, tops the list. He was detained from 2004 until mid-2006. After he was released, he formed the Army of Sunnis, which later merged with the so-called Mujahideen Shura Council.

What happened during Baghdadi’s detention in Bucca remains a mystery. Some press reports said he had been detained as a “civilian” in prison for 10 months in 2004, while other reports stated he was captured by the US forces in 2005 and held for four years at Camp Bucca. This latter possibility is unlikely, given that Baghdadi had formed the Army of Sunnis and joined the Mujahideen Shura Council shortly before the assassination of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in June 2006. This is while bearing in mind that this council was established in January 2006, which makes it more likely that Baghdadi had been released either in late 2005 or early 2006.

It should be noted that after the Army of the Sunnis merged with the Mujahideen Shura Council, the Americans were able to successfully hunt down the leaders of al-Qaeda in Iraq, starting with Zarqawi in 2006, and not ending with Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Hamza al-Muhajir in 2010, the death of the former being the event that paved the way for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to become the organization’s leader.

Another prominent IS leader today is Abu Ayman al-Iraqi, who was a former officer in the Iraqi army under Saddam Hussein. This man also “graduated” from Camp Bucca, and currently serves as a member on IS’ military council.

Another member of the military council who was in Bucca is Adnan Ismail Najm. He was known as Osama al-Bilawi (Abu Abdul_Rahman al-Bilawi). IS named the operation for the “invasion of Mosul” after him. He was detained on January 2005 in Bucca, and was also a former officer in Saddam’s army. He was the head of a shura council in IS, before he was killed by the Iraqi army near Mosul on June 4, 2014.

Camp Bucca was also home to Haji Samir, aka Haji Bakr, whose real name is Samir Abed Hamad al-Obeidi al-Dulaimi. He was a colonel in the army of the former Iraqi regime. He was detained in Bucca, and after his release, he joined al-Qaeda. He was the top man in ISIS in Syria, but was killed in Aleppo in the first week of January 2014.

According to the testimonies of US officers who worked in the prison, the administration of Camp Bucca had taken measures including the segregation of prisoners on the basis of their ideology. This, according to experts, made it possible to recruit people directly and indirectly.

Former detainees had said in documented television interviews that Bucca, which was closed down in September 2009, was akin to an “al-Qaeda school,” where senior extremist gave lessons on explosives and suicide attacks to younger prisoners. A former prisoner named Adel Jassem Mohammed said that one of the extremists remained in the prison for two weeks only, but even so was able to recruit 25 out of 34 inmates who were there. Mohammed also said that U.S. military officials did nothing to stop the extremists from mentoring the other detainees.

While Camp Bucca is the common denominator among most IS leaders, another one is the fact that a majority of them were officers in the Baathist army, which explains the ease with which the radical group has been able to infiltrate the clans and coax some of their leaders into joining its ranks.

Another noteworthy point is that none of the leaders who had emerged out of Bucca and who were subsequently killed, were killed in U.S. airstrikes, but rather at the hands of the Iraqi army, the Syrian army, or in fighting with other armed groups.

What had happened in Bucca then? What were the circumstances that made all those former detainees subsequent leaders in the extremist group? These questions require answers and serious investigations. No doubt, we will one day discover that many more leaders in the group had been detained in Bucca as well, which seems to have been more of a “terrorist academy” than a prison.

The final point that cannot be ignored is that the creation of ISIS has greatly weakened al-Qaeda.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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