Islamic State (IS) extremists are training Iraqi and Syrian children as young as eight years old to carry out suicide attacks and fight to kill, Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga commanders tell VOA.
“There are training centers, more than two or three, big training centers in Mosul,” said General Sirwan Barzani, the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga commander fighting IS on the volatile Makhmour frontline.
“They are just starting the training at eight years old to 18 years old. There are teenagers, there are kids [being taught] how to kill the people, how to do suicide [attacks],” the general said.
The use of child soldiers could make the fight for Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city that has been under IS control for two years, even more horrific than previous battles.
The general said the Peshmerga had recently captured a 15-year-old IS conscript. The boy was handed over to the leadership in the Kurdish regional capital of Irbil.
According to Quilliam, a London-based counter-extremism research group, children under IS control “are systematically trained to fulfill roles ranging from spies, to front line soldiers, to suicide bombers.”
Kurdish Peshmerga counterterrorism official Polad Jangi said these were largely children of captured families and civilians living under IS influence.
“They are children from Syria, the Syrian IS [is] doing that to them, the IS in Iraq are doing the same in Mosul, recruiting 10 year olds, making them shoot people, making them behead people,” Jangi told VOA.
“That kid, by the time he is 12, 13 years old, he is going to be a trained killer basically,” he said.
Child recruitment widespread
According to Quilliam’s March 2016 report, many of the armed groups in the region, including “IS, Jabhat al-Nusra and the Free Syrian Army [are] recruiting children and adolescents.”
Their training typically starts with religious indoctrination followed by physical training, at which point children are typically isolated from their families.
Echoing observations by the Kurdish commander, the Quilliam report said the youth are trained as spies, preachers, fighters, executioners and suicide bombers.
Quilliam’s report says children are captured or coerced, reportedly through beatings or torture, and co-opted into joining the group.
In a report, the United Nations last year estimated that IS had abducted between 800 and 900 children between the ages of nine and 15 from the areas around Mosul and took them to IS camps south of the city.
The younger ones were put into religious education camps. Those 10 to 15 years old were put into military training.
A former member of the Yazidi religious sect, who was held as a sex slave, and a Yazidi activist working with Yazidis, including children, who were freed from IS, confirmed to VOA that captured Yazidi children were being forcibly indoctrinated in IS ideology.
The U.N. report added that IS has used child soldiers to execute 15 of its fighters who had lost battles or retreated from battles.
Indoctrinating children could also ensure that IS has a future generation of fighters, potentially prolonging the conflicts in both countries and further afield.
“These new generations that are coming up, they are only going to end up being the foot soldiers for these guys, to go and do suicide bombings,” Jangi said.
Helping children recuperate from the full spectrum of atrocities experienced under IS, Quilliam said, will require a comprehensive program of de-radicalization, re-education, reintegration and community outreach.