Video: One Big Al Qaeda Party in Syria

Oct 01, 2013 at 1:24 PM ET

They brandish Russian-made guns. They smash concrete blocks with their bare hands—or even their heads. They sprint through dangerous obstacle courses and simulate battlefield assaults. So who are these soldiers-to-be?

Meet the latest graduates of a jihadi training camp in northern Syria run by Jabhat al-Nusra, one of the biggest Al Qaeda–linked groups fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The Al Nusra group has been training fighters both inside and outside Syria since the conflict began more than two years ago.

The images were uploaded to YouTube last month in a video entitled “Launch of the First Training Session of the Jihadist Fighters of Jabhat al-Nusra in Al Raqqah.” At the end of the video, in a kind of pep talk to the graduates, a fighter who appears to be the commander addresses the trainees. His face is blurred out so he cannot be identified. “We are telling our brothers we are here to protect you,” he says. “We thank you for all your efforts to unite the Muslims, and with God’s help we will all unite and be together under the same religion.”

The city, just south of Aleppo, was captured by rebel forces earlier this year and, according to The Telegraph, it has given the Al Qaeda affiliate enormous control over a large part of northeastern Syria. Just last month, reports said the Free Syrian Army, the coalition of opposition forces fighting Assad’s army, had thrown in its lot with Al Nusra in Raqqah and raised the black flag of Al Qaeda.

Al Nusra and the other jihadi groups fighting in Syria are clear about their aim: to establish an Islamic state in which Sharia law rules.