Mosul train tunnel reveals assault course for elite Islamic State fighters

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The Islamic State's underground training camp
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The Islamic State's underground training camp
Members of the rapid response forces inspect a tunnel that was used by Islamic State militants as an underground training camp in the hillside overlooking Mosul, Iraq, March 4, 2017. Picture taken March 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
Members of the rapid response forces inspect a tunnel that was used by Islamic State militants as an underground training camp in the hillside overlooking Mosul, Iraq, March 4, 2017. Picture taken March 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
Members of the rapid response forces inspect a tunnel that was used by Islamic State militants as underground training camp in the hillside overlooking Mosul, Iraq, March 4, 2017. Picture taken March 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
A view of Islamic State slogans painted along the walls of the tunnel that was used by Islamic State militants as underground training camp in the hillside overlooking Mosul, Iraq, March 4, 2017. Picture taken March 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
Members of the rapid response forces inspect a tunnel that was used by Islamic State militants as underground training camp in the hillside overlooking Mosul, Iraq, March 4, 2017. Picture taken March 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
A view of Islamic State slogans painted along the walls of the tunnel that was used by Islamic State militants as underground training camp in the hillside overlooking Mosul, Iraq, March 4, 2017. Picture taken March 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
A view of Islamic State slogans painted along the walls of the tunnel that was used by Islamic State militants as an underground training camp in the hillside overlooking Mosul, Iraq, March 4, 2017. Picture taken March 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
A view of Islamic State slogans painted along the walls of the tunnel that was used by Islamic State militants as an underground training camp in the hillside overlooking Mosul, Iraq, March 4, 2017. Picture taken March 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
A view of Islamic State slogans painted along the walls of the tunnel that was used by Islamic State militants as an underground training camp in the hillside overlooking Mosul, Iraq, March 4, 2017. Picture taken March 4, 2017. The slogan reads, "We will conquer Roma God willing". REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Islamic State slogans painted along the walls of the tunnel was used by Islamic State militants as an underground training camp in the hillside overlooking Mosul, Iraq, March 4, 2017. Picture taken March 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
Islamic State slogans painted along the walls of the tunnel was used by Islamic State militants as an underground training camp in the hillside overlooking Mosul, Iraq, March 4, 2017. Picture taken March 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
Members of the rapid response forces inspect a tunnel was used by Islamic State militants as an underground training camp in the hillside overlooking Mosul, Iraq, March 4, 2017. Picture taken March 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
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SOUTH OF MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) - The mouth of the tunnel is hardly visible on a muddy hillside overlooking Mosul, where fighting now rages between Iraqi forces and Islamic State militants.

In less turbulent times, trains ran through it on their way to or from Mosul, but when the militants overran the area in the summer of 2014, they barricaded both ends, ripped up the tracks and built an assault course inside, on which to train their recruits.

SEE ALSO: New York man arrested for allegedly trying to join ISIS

Iraqi forces discovered the underground training camp after regaining control of the hillside last month in the early stages of a campaign to dislodge Islamic State militants from Mosul's western half.

Locals tipped them off about the location of the camp, which reveals the extent of Islamic State's determination, despite the overwhelming number and firepower of the forces arrayed against it, which are backed by a U.S.-led coalition.

Clambering down a bank of earth that concealed the entrance, two Iraqi soldiers went into the tunnel - about 7 m (yards) high by 5 m (yards) wide, lighting the way with their mobile phones.

They illuminated Islamic State slogans painted along the walls of the tunnel - around half a kilometer (0.3 mile) in length - and a series of obstacles, which one soldier tried out.

"Their training is similar to ours," said Kadhem al-Gharrawi, a member of the Rapid Response Division, an elite Interior Ministry Unit. "It's tough training for special forces."

It is not clear how many recruits passed through the camp or what became of them.

The physical drills complemented the group's ideological training, evidence of which is contained in booklets littering the floor of the tunnel, detailing its uncompromising doctrine.

A leaflet titled "Types of Idolatry", lies beside empty cartons of orange juice drunk by the recruits and packaging of the boots and balaclava headgear they wore.

18 PHOTOS
The life of Islamic State militants behind bars
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The life of Islamic State militants behind bars
Amar Hussein, 22, an Islamic State member listens to a counter-terrorism agent in Sulaimaniya, Iraq February 15, 2017. Picture taken February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Ghaffar Abdel Rahman, 31, an Islamic State member speaks during his meeting with Reuters journalists in Sulaimaniya, Iraq February 15, 2017. Picture taken February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Amar Hussein, 22, an Islamic State member, has his cuff removed by a counter-terrorism agent inside his prison cell in Sulaimaniya, Iraq February 15, 2017. Picture taken February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Ghaffar Abdel Rahman, 31, an Islamic State member, speaks during his meeting with Reuters journalists in Sulaimaniya, Iraq February 15, 2017. Picture taken February 15, 2017.REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Islamic religious praises are pictured on the wall of a prison cell of Amar Hussein, 22, an Islamic State member, in Sulaimaniya, Iraq February 15, 2017. Picture taken February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Amar Hussein, 22, an Islamic State member look out from a prison cell in Sulaimaniya , Iraq February 15, 2017. Picture taken February 15, 2017.REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Amar Hussein, 22, an Islamic State member, has his cuff removed by a counter-terrorism agent inside his prison cell in Sulaimaniya, Iraq February 15, 2017. Picture taken February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Amar Hussein, 22, an Islamic State member, stands as his head is covered with a black hood while he waits to be escorted to his cell in Sulaimaniya, Iraq February 15, 2017. Picture taken February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Amar Hussein, 22, an Islamic State member, sits during an interview with Reuters journalists in Sulaimaniya, Iraq February 15, 2017. Picture taken February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Ghaffar Abdel Rahman, 31, an Islamic State member, stands at an interrogation room in Sulaimaniya , Iraq February 15, 2017. Picture taken February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Amar Hussein, 22, an Islamic State member sits at his prison cell in Sulaimaniya , Iraq February 15, 2017. Picture taken February 15, 2017.REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
The hand of Ghaffar Abdel Rahman, 31, an Islamic State member, is seen from a cell in Sulaimaniya, Iraq February 15, 2017. Picture taken February 15, 2017.R EUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Ghaffar Abdel Rahman, 31, an Islamic State member, is escorted by a counter-terrorism agent as his head is covered with a black hood in Sulaimaniya, Iraq February 15, 2017. Picture taken February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Ghaffar Abdel Rahman, 31, an Islamic State member, sits at his prison cell in Sulaimaniya, Iraq February 15, 2017. Picture taken February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Ghaffar Abdel Rahman, 31, an Islamic State member, looks out from a prison cell in Sulaimaniya, Iraq February 15, 2017. Picture taken February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Ghaffar Abdel Rahman, 31, an Islamic State member, sits at his prison cell in Sulaimaniya, Iraq February 15, 2017. Picture taken February 15, 2017.REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Ghaffar Abdel Rahman, 31, an Islamic State member, is escorted by a counter-terrorism agent as his head is covered with a black hood in Sulaimaniya, Iraq February 15, 2017. Picture taken February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
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CONQUERING ROME

The railway was built in the early 20th century, as part of the line connecting Berlin to Baghdad.

It was out of use when Islamic State overran Mosul in the summer of 2014 and declared a modern-day caliphate spanning Iraq and Syria, pledging to expand across the world.

"By the will of God, we will conquer Rome," reads one mural painted on the wall of the tunnel against the background of a blood red sun.

Near the start of the assault course lie several backpacks full of sand, which were worn by recruits to weigh them down as they went over the obstacles, to increase the difficulty.

After coming off the death slide, recruits would have swung along monkey bars and then thrown themselves flat to crawl under barbed wire, past the words "We will prevail despite the global Crusader alliance" painted on the wall.

Red arrows point to the direction in which they were supposed to scramble over a wall - still covered in scuff marks made by their boots.

The recruits appear to have slept there some of the time: bedding is strewn in two chambers dug into the sides of the tunnel, including a pink duvet cover decorated with cartoon character Mickey Mouse.

The militants also installed lighting in the tunnel, powered by a generator set in the hillside. There was a medical clinic in a portacabin, as well as four shower cubicles and a place to perform ablutions before prayer in a tunnel section labeled "mosque".

Another area was designated for washing dishes, not far from the slogan: "Heaven is jihad in the path of God".

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