The Islamic State's Own Photos May Have Been Used to Find One of Its Training Camps

The Islamic State's Own Photos May Have Been Used to Find One of Its Training Camps

The news: Since its fearsome takeover began, the Islamic State terrorist organization has been posting tons of photos and videos online demonstrating its prowess. But in an ironic twist, an independent journalism outfit believes it has discovered the location of an IS training camp, all based on a collection of photos and videos the terrorists boastfully posted online.

Meet Bellingcat. The crowd-funded citizen journalism site was founded just months ago by Eliot Higgins, an Internet sleuth who was able to find evidence for chemical warfare in Syria — all without leaving his town of Leicester, England. The site brings together volunteer analysts and reporters who want to put their investigative skills to the test — such as bringing down one of the world's most threatening jihadist groups.

Late last week, Bellingcat announced it discovered the site of an IS training camp by using common tools such as Google Earth, Panoramio and Flash Earth. Volunteers were able to identify landmarks from photos and videos that IS members posted and eventually narrowed the location down to a riverside camp in Mosul, Iraq.

"In the entire area there's only one possible location that matches, on the north side of the river, with the camera pointing south," an anonymous poster wrote. "It also appears the martial arts lessons were photographed in the same area, with the bridge running over the road visible, and the trees on the right."

Redefining journalism. Although crowdsourced investigations have their limitations — remember Reddit's infamous misidentification of the Boston marathon bomber? — it's still exciting to see citizen journalists using easily available tools to conduct some next-level sleuthing. 

Of course, this doesn't now mean that the U.S. is going to immediately go in and bomb these locations. In fact, it's quite possible (and probably likely) that the U.S. or other national governments knew this information as well, but as IS grows into a fairly frightening organization, it's somewhat reassuring to know that they're not, in fact, invincible and that with some smart thinking, they don't appear nearly as smart as they seem.