It is part of a concerted effort by the extremists to build a new generation of militants, according to a series of AP interviews with residents who fled or still live under ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
The group is recruiting teens and children, using cash, gifts, intimidation and brainwashing. As a result, children have been plunged into the group’s atrocities. Young boys have been turned into executioners, shooting captives in the head in videos issued by the group. Last week, for the first time, a video showed a child involved in a beheading: a boy who appeared younger than 13 decapitating a Syrian army captain. Kids have also been used as suicide bombers.
In schools and mosques, the militants infuse children with their extremist doctrine, often turning them against their own parents. Fighters in the street befriend children with toys. ISIS training camps for children churn out the Ashbal, Arabic for “lion cubs,” young fighters for the “caliphate” that ISIS has declared across the regions its controls. The caliphate is a historic form of Islamic rule that the group claims to be reviving, though the vast majority of Muslims reject its claim.
“They are planting extremism and terrorism in young people’s minds,” said Abu Hafs Naqshabandi, a Syrian sheikh in the Turkish city of Sanliurfa, where he runs religion classes for refugees to counter ISIS ideology. “I am terribly worried about future generations.”
ISIS has claimed to have hundreds of such camps, though the true number is not known — nor the number of children who have gone through the training. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based organization that follows the Syrian war, said it documented at least 1,100 Syrian children under 16 who joined ISIS so far this year, many of whom were then sent to fight in Syria and Iraq. At least 52 were killed, including eight who blew themselves up in suicide attacks, the organization said.
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