Nope, Islamic State Isn’t Operating Training Camps in Mexico
Those saying so don’t know what they’re talking about
by ROBERT BECKHUSEN
One of the biggest recurring nonsense stories about Islamic State is that the terrorist group is operating along the U.S.-Mexico border. Every few months, there’s a round of ill-sourced conspiracy theories that jump into the popular media.
The latest comes courtesy of Judicial Watch, a conservative blog that recently claimed that sources including “a Mexican army field grade officer and a Mexican Federal Police Inspector” are aware of an Islamic State training camp in the Ciudad Juarez suburb of Anapra.
The Pentagon, the State Department, the Mexican federal attorney general’s office and the Chihuahua state attorney general denied the allegations.
That didn’t stop newspapers, blogs and email newsletters from circulating the claim.
But there’s plenty of journalists who live along the U.S.-Mexico border or travel there frequently. There are lots of people who call the region home — and they would probably be aware if an international terrorist conspiracy was operating training camps down the street.
Mike Scanlon is a reporter and editor at Rio Grande Digital, a news website covering Las Cruces, El Paso and Ciudad Juarez. He also knows a thing or two about the border. The first thing is that Judicial Watch got the location wrong, Scanlon wrote. The Website described the training camp as being “around eight miles from the U.S. border in an area known as ‘Anapra.’”
If you weren’t familiar with Anapra, this description would imply it’s some remote, off-limits land where people fear to tread. In fact, it’s a working class part of Juarez.
“First, there is no part of Anapra that is eight miles from the border,” Scanlon wrote. “Anapra is literally on the border.”
More precisely, it’s directly opposite the border fence from the El Paso suburb of Sunland Park. It’s not inaccessible — far from it.
Alfredo Corchado, a reporter with the Dallas Morning News, visited Anapra and interviewed several residents. One local called the allegations “insane,” and the people in the tight-knit community know their neighbors pretty well. As Corchado pointed out, the residents can spot outsiders based on their regional Mexican accents alone.
There are a few hundred people living there, and Arabic speakers would stick out like a sore thumb. It’s probably one of the worst places for Islamic State to set up a training camp if they wanted to go unnoticed.
Angela Koncherga, a reporter with Houston TV station KHOU, also went to the town and interviewed residents.
Her report is worth watching — especially the part when Koncherga interviewed a group of schoolchildren who thought the claim was funny. If there are terrorists hiding nearby, they must have good camouflage.
Besides, the rest of the Juarez metropolitan area — population 1.5 million — would have to go about their days ignorant of Islamic State operating a training camp in their midst.
“Those people are not oblivious to world affairs,” Scanlon wrote. “They’re well aware of what’s going on in the Middle East, and I don’t think anyone in Juarez would be willing to turn a blind eye to any real threat against the neighboring country.”
Even as a tactic, it doesn’t make much sense to set up shop in Anapra.
Dozens of U.S. citizens have traveled to Iraq and Syria to fight for Islamic State, according to the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center. There’s no need to smuggle people across the border if they can just recruit … people with U.S. passports.
Right now, the U.S. federal government is prosecuting 18 cases involving American citizens accused of providing support to Islamic State, according to CNN.
But that demonstrates Islamic State is a particular kind of threat — one that’s far more diffuse and ideological outside of the territory it physically controls in Iraq and Syria.
But nonsense claims about them operating on the border plays into a different set of anxieties — it trades in fear of Mexico and foreigners generally.
The claim is false, but people believe it and share it, because it syncs up with prejudices about places of which they haven’t a clue.