Isis is using far more child soldiers than the world realised

Parents have reported their children being sent home with Western dolls and teddy bears to 'behead' as part of training

Lizzie Dearden
Friday 19 February 2016 11:01 GMT
An Isis training camp for child soldiers
An Isis training camp for child soldiers

Isis is using children as fighters and suicide bombers on a far larger scale than feared while boasting of their “martyrdom” in its gory propaganda.

And according to a report for the Combating Terrorism Centre in New York, the number of children being sent into battle could increase still further as the terrorist group comes under increased pressure from military operations against its territories, air strikes and financial losses.

The so-called Islamic State has set up large training camps for children living under its control and issues propaganda of the “Cubs of the Caliphate” conducting training exercises.

The Yazidi children of Isis' training camps

Activists have warned about widespread brainwashing while parents fleeing the jihadist group have reported their children being sent home with Caucasian dolls dressed in orange jumpsuits to behead as “homework”.

Young children, including four-year-old British boy Isa Dare, have been prominently featured in execution videos but most of the recruits are being sent into battle as suicide bombers.

Researchers combed Isis channels on social media and messaging apps to count 89 recorded deaths of child soldiers between 1 January 2015 and the end of last month.

“The data unambiguously suggests that the Islamic State’s mobilisation of children and youth for military purposes is accelerating,” the report says.

“On a month-by-month basis, the rate of young people dying in suicide operations rose, from six in January 2015 to 11 in January 2016.

“The rate of operations involving one or more child or youth is likewise increasing; there were three times as many suicide operations involving children and youth in January 2016 as the previous January.”

Children are frequently shown in Isis propaganda

Just over half allegedly died in Iraq, while 36 per cent died in Syria and the remainder were killed during operations in Yemen, Libya, and Nigeria. While most were classed as “adolescent”, some were believed to be under 12 years old.

Among the numerous countries Isis claimed they hailed from were the UK, France and Australia, although most children were Syrian or Iraqi.

Almost 40 per cent of deaths were in car and truck bombs, which children are frequently used to drive into military positions and other security targets as part of Isis’ battle strategy.

Another third were killed as fighters in unspecified battlefield operations, while a fifth were killed while attacking enemy fighters and 6 per cent died while working as “propagandists” embedded with militants.

Others were hailed by Isis as “martyrs” for carrying out suicide bombings against civilians, although most of the recorded operations were against state security forces and paramilitary groups.

The report, by George State University professors Mia Bloom and John Horgan, and senior research associate Charlie Winter, said that as military pressure on Isis continues to increase child fighters are likely to be used more.

Britain joined the international coalition bombing Isis in Syria in December (Getty Images)

“They represent an effective form of psychological warfare—to project strength, pierce defenses, and strike fear into enemy soldiers’ hearts,” the report says.

“We can expect that, as their implementation increases, so too will the reported rate of child and youth deaths.”

The use of child soldiers has been seen in many conflicts, but other groups have been secretive, enlisting minors surreptitiously and deploying them as a last resort.

But Isis is using minors in much the same way as adults, while normalising child conscription under its rule and openly boasting about the “cubs” training camps and hailing teenagers’ deaths on social media.

Footage emerged last month of teenagers at an Isis training camp carrying out training exercises, while propaganda put out last year revealed the workings of the Al-Farouq Institute for Cubs in Raqqa, where pre-adolescent boys are indoctrinated and trained.

A couple who fled the city, which is Isis’ de-facto capital in Syria, told how their 13-year-old son was conscripted and “brainwashed” at a camp.

His father said he returned with a blonde, blue-eyed doll dressed in an orange jumpsuit and a large knife, saying a commander instructed children to practice beheading the Western figure as “homework”.

Footage recently obtained by Sky News shows youngsters playing mock execution games, kneeling and pretending to be shot in one video and attempting to decapitate a teddy bear in another.

Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, an activist group that documents Isis atrocities, describes the children as a “lost generation”. It has raised concern that even if the terrorist group is defeated, their young recruits could continue its bloody attempts to establish a brutal “caliphate”.

“It is clear that the Islamic State leadership has a long-term vision for youth in its jihadist efforts,” the study said, urging world leaders to prepare to rehabilitate former child fighters in the future.

“While today’s child militants may well be tomorrow’s adult terrorists, in all likelihood, the moral and ethical issues raised by battlefield engagement with the Islamic State’s youth are likely to be at the forefront of the discourse on the international coalition’s war against the group in years to come.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in