News / Middle East

Syrian Jihadists Target Children for Indoctrination, Training

A handout image released by the Syrian opposition's Shaam News Network allegedly shows a Syrian opposition activist waving an black flag of the Islamist Jihadists who are accused of recruiting children.
A handout image released by the Syrian opposition's Shaam News Network allegedly shows a Syrian opposition activist waving an black flag of the Islamist Jihadists who are accused of recruiting children.
— Al-Qaida linked jihadists in insurgent-held areas in northern and eastern Syria are targeting children as young as four-years-old and teenagers for indoctrination, conducting teach-ins, opening schools and training camps, say human rights activists.
 
The goal opposition activists and psychologists warn is a determined effort by al- Qaida to turn out a new generation of fighters, who will prove highly intractable and may turn out even more fanatical than the previous generation of al-Qaida adherents. Rehabilitation of children recruited as child soldiers at very young ages is notoriously difficult, according to therapists who have worked on treatment projects in Africa and the Middle East.
 
“You are seeing the jihadists trying to create a new pool of suicide bombers,” says psychotherapist Mohamed Khalil of the London-based Arab Foundation for Care of Victims of War and Torture. “You can influence children very easily,” he says. “They give these lost children in the middle of war an identity and prestige, telling them they are mature now and men. They saturate them with jihadist thinking and in effect brainwash them. They are co-opting them into a way of life that will be hard to shake off later.”
 
Videos show a concerted effort to recruit children
 
A recent spate of online videos on jihadist forums of Syrian children and teenagers undergoing jihadist instruction demonstrates the scale of the indoctrination and the effort expended on training and recruitment in the middle of the war. The videos supply ‘marketing’ material for al-Qaida and their sympathizers to propagate via the Internet jihadist thinking to children and teenagers beyond Syria in Europe and the Gulf.
 
One video posted to a jihadist web site shows a four-year-old child being taught by foreign fighters from al-Qaida offshoot the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, commonly known as ISIS, to fire an AK47 assault rifle. On the video, the child says he was born in Uzbekistan and explains he has been given the same name as ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Jihadists surrounding him appear to come from Gulf countries, judging by their accents.
 
The video using the header “a message from one of the cubs of ISIS” was monitored by the Middle East Media Research Institute, a Washington-DC-based non-profit. Increasingly over the past decade, al-Qaida and its affiliates and sympathizers have been focusing their outreach and recruitment efforts at pre-teens, and even much younger children, according to the institute.
 
“There is a concerted effort by al-Qaida central and splinter groups – greater than ever – to concentrate on children,” says Steven Stalinsky, MEMRI’s executive director. “Al-Qaida has realized that this is an effective way for the group to spread its ideology and grow.”
 
Syria effort to recruit children more organized than elsewhere
 
While al-Qaida has targeted children before for indoctrination and recruitment – in Afghanistan, the Middle East and Africa – the effort appears greater and more organized in Syria. That’s in keeping, says Stalinsky, with a renewed focus on the young by al-Qaida’s media wing, al-Sahab. In an audio lecture released this year by al-Sahab, jihadist leader Maulana Asim Umar urges even the youngest Muslims to “not stay with [their] parents” and to leave the “luxury” of home and “city life” to wage jihad, like the Prophet Muhammad before them.
 
Opposition activists say ISIS has set up cadet camps in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta and in Rif Dimashq, the countryside around the Syrian capital that may house as many as 300 children. Some of the children are believed to be the offspring of foreign fighters; others orphans whose parents have been killed in the Syrian conflict.
 
This month the UN released a report accusing all parties in the Syrian civil war of committing violations against children, including the recruitment of them as fighters. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the suffering of children in the conflict as “unspeakable and unacceptable.”
 
Al-Qaida-affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra has a parallel indoctrination and recruitment effort underway also and is overseeing its own training camps in Syria. A February 6 video monitored by MEMRI of the “Cubs of Jabhat al-Nusra” shows a large group of children attending a jihadist sharia school. Pulling up to the school in a bus, the children chant, “[Oh] our youth, come to the battles... [and let] the arrogant [and] stubborn fall. Tomorrow, tomorrow, we implement the law of our God, and the unbelieving idol shall fall.”
 
Psychotherapist Khalil warns: “Children have little understanding of killing and the permanence of death and when they fight they can be very harsh and very extreme because they can execute missions without fear and they can easily be trained as suicide bombers.”
 
Rehabilitation is difficult and long term consequences dire
 
He says rehabilitation of those recruited very young and their reintegration after a conflict is highly problematic. “I am expecting we are going to have some very serious consequences from this. al-Qaida is shaping a new generation of fanatics which will pose a serious threat not just to Syria, but to neighboring countries in the Middle East and Europe.”
 
MEMRI’s Stalinsky believes the consequences can already be seen outside Syria. “You see Muslim youth who aren’t even old enough to drive going by themselves from Europe and parts of the Muslim world traveling to Syria for jihad.” Two teens from Toulouse, France, ages 15 and 16, were apprehended in late January in Turkey on their way to join the jihad in Syria, according to Turkish authorities.
 
Stalinsky warns: “They are opening camps and schools which are indoctrinating young children – from Africa, the Middle East, and most likely in Europe too. ISIS even has a department of education, and have created textbooks.”
 
Along with the camps jihadist propaganda is glorifying a culture of martyrdom with children's deaths in fighting honored in videos and photos posted in social media. In a November 2012 jihadist video, a Syrian boy likely to be about ten-years-old is seen digging his own grave, saying, “Allah willing, I will become a martyr."

You May Like

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debatei
X
Shelley Schlender
July 24, 2014 6:43 PM
In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Death Toll From Israel-Gaza Conflict Surpasses 700

Gaza officials say a shelling hit a compound housing a United Nations-run school in the Gaza Strip, killing more than a dozen people, during an Israeli offensive in the area. Heavy fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas militants continued on Thursday, pushing up the death toll. So far, more than 730 Palestinians and 35 Israelis have been killed in the conflict. VOA's Scott Bobb has the latest from Jerusalem.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Researchers Target Low-Cost Avatar Technology

Scientists at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies say 3-dimensional representations could revolutionize social media. Elizabeth Lee has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid