child solidiers

Children Of The Caliphate: Facing The Horror Of Child Soldiers

The use of child soldiers by the Islamic State represents one of the gravest situations on earth for children. In the Islamic State’s continued struggle for a caliphate, child soldiers are not only being used and sacrificed regularly as part of the war, but children are also being trained and indoctrinated to ensure the conflict endures far into the future.

How Islamic State is training child killers in doctrine of hate

By: Mark Townsend

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A new generation of Isis recruits is being developed in the Islamic State’s “caliphate”, indoctrinated with religious concepts from birth, and viewed by its fighters as better and purer than themselves, according to the first study of the exploitation and abuse of children as a means of securing the group’s future.

Researchers for Quilliam, a London counter-extremism thinktank, have investigated the way Isis recruits children and indoctrinates and trains them for jihad. As many as 50 children from the UK are growing up in Islamic State-controlled territory, with an estimated 30,000 foreign recruits, including more than 800 Britons, believed to have gone to Syria to fight.

The report, Children of Islamic State, has been endorsed by the UN and will be published on Wednesday in parliament. It was compiled through a study of propaganda released by Isis featuring children and liaising with trusted sources within the caliphate. The portrait painted is of a terrorist group eager to enlist children to help safeguard its future. Many are being trained as spies, preachers, soldiers, “executioners” and suicide bombers.

The authors state: “The organisation … focuses a large number of its efforts on indoctrinating children through an extremism-based education curriculum, and fostering them to become future terrorists. The current generation of fighters sees these children as better and more lethal fighters than themselves, because rather than being converted into radical ideologies they have been indoctrinated into these extreme values from birth, or a very young age.”

Not having been corrupted by living according to secular values, they are considered purer than adult fighters. “These children are saved from corruption,” states the study, “making them stronger than the current mujahideen [fighters] because they have a superior understanding of Islam from youth and from school curriculum and are better and more brutal fighters as they are trained in violence from a very young age”.

The foreign recruits represent a potentially significant strengthening of the group’s cohort of around 80,000 militants, 50,000 in Syria and 30,000 in Iraq. An estimated 6 million men, women and children are said to be living within its self-styled Isis caliphate.

“The aim is to prepare a new, stronger, second generation of mujahideen, conditioned and taught to be a future resource for the group,” the report adds. “The area of most concern is that Islamic State is preparing its army by indoctrinating young children in its schools and normalising them to violence through witnessing public executions, watching Islamic State videos in media centres and giving children toy weapons to play with.”

The focus on youth bears similarities, according to the report, to the forced recruitment of child soldiers in Liberia in the 1990s, when Charles Taylor seized power in 1997 with a rebel army filled with children.

The authors conclude that Isis also appears to have studied the Nazi regime, which created the Hitler Youth to indoctrinate children. The UN has received credible but unverified reports about an Isis youth wing, Fityan al-Islam, meaning boys of Islam.

The authors also point to the precedent of the Baathist regime in Iraq, which in the late 1970s established the Futuwah (Youth Vanguard) movement with the most important Iraqi child soldier units known as Ashbal Saddam, or Saddam’s Lion Cubs, made up of boys aged 10 to 15.

Researchers for Quilliam found that children were used extensively in Isis propaganda – between 1 August last year and 9 February this year they identified a total of 254 events or statements featuring images of children – to help project the impression of state-building.

Isis also uses children to try to normalise brutality, with the group encouraging children to hold up decapitated heads or play football with them. In the past six months Islamic State propaganda has depicted 12 child killers. A macabre recent video showed a four-year-old British boy apparently detonating a car bomb, killing four alleged spies trapped in the vehicle.

Recruitment of children into Isis frequently involves coercion, according to the report, with abduction being a favoured method. The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq estimates that Isis has abducted between 800 and 900 children between the ages of nine and 15. From August 2014 to June 2015, hundreds of boys, including Yazidis and Turkmens, were forcibly taken from their families in Nineveh and sent to training centres, where boys as young as eight were taught the Qur’an, the use of weapons and combat tactics.

The organisation also uses fear as a recruitment tool, with media outlets within the caliphate issuing statements warning that children who refuse to conform with Isis orders will be flogged, tortured or raped.

Isis has been quick to seize control of the education system in Syria and Iraq, with indoctrination beginning in schools and intensifying in training camps. In the camps, children between the ages of 10 and 15 are instructed in sharia, desensitised to violence, and taught specific skills needed to serve the state and take up jihad.

Boys learn a rigid Islamic State curriculum, from which drawing, philosophy and social studies – described as the “methodology of atheism” – have been removed.

Children memorise verses of the Qur’an and attend jihadi training, which includes shooting, weaponry and martial arts. Girls, known as the “pearls of the caliphate”, are veiled, hidden, confined to the home and taught to look after the men.

The report’s authors recommend the creation of a commission to protect future generations from radical violence and to help monitor and reintegrate children within the EU who are at risk. According to a spokesperson for the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, which co-wrote the report, life under Isis is “one of the gravest situations for children on Earth. It is hoped that this report will provide a critical perspective on the plight of these children, that will then create essential reflections for policymakers, child protection agencies, governments, multilateral organisations, and those concerned with ending conflict in Iraq and Syria.”

Islamic State uses ‘Nazi-style indoctrination’ to train generation of child fighters


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Islamic State is using Nazi-style indoctrination methods to groom a generation of children it hopes will be “more lethal” than today’s fighters, a study has found.

Around 50 British children are among the thousands of youths going through military training and ideological indoctrination inside the group’s so-called caliphate across Iraq and Syria, according to a report by the Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremism think tank.

Young boys are being groomed to be fighters, spies, suicide bombers and executioners and feature prominently in Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) propaganda, the analysis found, while girls are being moulded as wives and mothers of future soldiers.

“The current generation of fighters sees these children as better and more lethal fighters than themselves, because rather than being converted into radical ideologies, they have been indoctrinated into these extreme values from birth, or a very young age,” the report concludes.

The Quilliam analysis looked at six months of Isil propaganda released between August 2015 and February 2016 and found 254 instances in which children were featured.

In 12 of those cases, children were used to murder prisoners. Among them was Isa Dare, a four-year-old British boy, who was used to blow up a car in which alleged anti-Isil spies were trapped.

Child fighters are groomed from a young age that the caliphate is superior to any other nation. Violence and jihad are always present - for example, in counting lessons children tally up guns or tanks instead of apples or oranges.

Children are exposed to public executions and in some reported case encouraged to hold up decapitated heads or play football with them.

“The filming of such events is an attempt to promote the idea that the general public support executions. Children have been seen to eagerly seek a front row seat, demonstrating that they are not shy to watch such killings in public,” the report found.

The intensive grooming of children has parallels with both the Hitler Youth and Saddam Hussein’s Lion Cubs, the Ba’ath youth movement under the ousted Iraqi dictator. There are also parallels with the use of child soldiers in Liberia and Angola.

“Elements from Nazi Germany can be glimpsed in the systematic indoctrination of children through schools and training camps in [Isil], while abductions and forced recruitment employed by armies in Africa have been observed throughout Iraq and Syria,” the report found.

However, there are key differences. In most cases African child soldiers were abducted from their families and forced to fight, while Isil enlists radicalised parents to help indoctrinate the young.

“Mothers are given books instructing them how to bring up jihadi children, suggestions include telling bedtime stories about martyrdom, exposing children to graphic content through jihadi websites, and encouraging them to play sports and games which improve their fitness and hand-eye coordination,” the report found.

“In this way, children are brought up exposed to Islamic State ideology by those they trust and love, consequently making them more likely to trust Islamic State itself.”

Quilliam lays out suggestions for how indoctrinated Isil youth could be de-radicalised drawing partially on the lessons of demobilising child soldiers and of bringing young men out of gang culture.

Younger children who have not directly been involved in violence could hopefully be reintegrated into society fairly quickly with the help of counselling and debunking of jihadist ideology, the report suggests.

However, older children who were exposed to or involved in violence would require a much more intensive de-radicalisation programme.