There are tens of thousands of young children, as young as 10-11 years old, accused of carrying out terror activities on behalf of ISIS, now living in rehabilitation facilities in Iraq and Syria. During its heydays, the Islamic State had recruited such young boys and trained them to use guns and explosives, to run its rule of terror. One such boy is 13-year-old Abdullah, who is held at a Kurdish-run Syrian detention centre for ‘Caliphate Cubs’, who has expressed his urge to go back to his ‘home’ in Britain.
‘Caliphate cubs’ refers to a programme by ISIS in which they used to indoctrinate, recruit and train children between the ages of 10 and 15 so that they can be used to carry out jihadist activities. This practice is what ISIS has always boasted of in pictures and videos displayed across the Internet with titles such as the “Cubs of the Islamic State.”
According to a report by Daily Mail, one journalist, Andrew Drury, travelled to Syria in early June this year for the filming of his upcoming movie ‘Danger Zone’, when he spoke to the 13-year-old boy, Abdullah.
Abdullah brought to live under ISIS at the age of eight
Abdullah, who grew up in London with his Pakistan origin family, was eight when his parents brought him to live under the Islamic State in Syria, along with his siblings, two sisters and two brothers. At an early age, when children generally enjoy watching cartoon serials and playing with toys, Abdullah, a fan of Chelsea and McDonald’s, was taught how to use an AK-47 rifle by ISIS terrorists in Syria.
The young boy told the journalist that all his family members are dead now, most of whom were killed in the village of Baghouz, ISIS’ last bastion in Syria.
For the uninitiated, in 2019, the then US President Donald Trump had declared that ISIS was “100 percent” defeated, after Baghouz, the last stronghold of ISIS fell after a long battle.
‘First school they taught me to hold weapon, second they taught Quran’, the teenager in the ISIS centre
Speaking about his ordeal, Abdullah said that in as less than one and a half years of his stay in Syria, he was introduced to arms and ammunitions. He was taught how to use an AK-47 assault rifle. He claimed that he never used it to date, though, he and the other children under the ISIS rule were expected to do so.
Abdullah narrated to the journalist how the schools in Syria under ISIS rule used to teach weapons and Islam to the children.
He said, “The first day I go to school they learn me how to use the weapons. And then I tell my mum, I can’t do these kind of things, and then my mum tell me go to second school. And the second school they learn me like the Quran and this kind of thing”.
The young boy, who had been living in the shelter after the fall of ISIS, added that he does not remember how old was he when his parents brought him there, nor does he remember his own birthday. He has also forgot a lot of things that happened in the last 4-5 years. “I don’t remember (how old I was when I came here), in Baghouz there was a lot of airstrike, and this kind of thing, and I forgot a lot of things,” he said.
‘I don’t remember (when my birthday is) before I know, but I forget”, Daily Mail quoted the traumatised teenager telling the journalist, adding: “In London when I was celebrating my birthday, we were eating cake and this kind of thing. But here we can’t do anything”.
Spoken about his family, Abdullah said he misses his mother, recalling how she was killed in Baghouz. “I never saw her. A lot of people told me she got killed”, said the boy.
Abdullah also remembers how his siblings- his elder sister, his younger sister and two brothers- one younger to him and the other one elder to him, all got killed. He said, “the bigger brother he got killed in al-Shaddadi, and smaller than me he got killed with my mum and my sister. My older sister got married and that man, I was living with that man, and then he got killed. He was ISIS”.
Abdullah added that once he witnessed how an ISIS recruit in Baghouz blew himself up. “I saw snipers, there was a lot of these kind of things”, added the boy.
Life at the detention centre
The juveniles kept at the shelter are considered former aides of ISIS, as they were trained to conduct terror activities, and therefore they are kept under vigilance. According to the report by Daily Mail, Abdullah and other boys are kept locked during the night for 9 hours, from 9 pm to 6 am. He said, “9 pm, they shut the doors, and then they wake us at 6 am and we make sport (sic) and then we eat breakfast and after 1 pm we eat and then we sit and I talk with my friends.”
Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which runs the rehabilitation facility, hopes to rehabilitate the children.
“I’m here one-and-a-half year. I was living in Raqqa (Syria) for like one year, it was better than Baghouz, we got house and internet, we have a car. But there was no McDonalds”, said the teenager remembering his life in ISIS ruled Syria before coming to the shelter.
‘I have PlayStation and Xbox in London, want to go back’, the teenage boy laments
“I have PlayStation and Xbox in London. I like Chelsea. Usually, I like Xbox, and these kind of things, but here we can’t do anything because it’s prison”, lamented the youngster, saying: “I want to go back to London”.
However, according to the report, Abdullah’s mother had burnt the family passports to show loyalty to ISIS, putting a question mark on the boy’s return to UK.
After his visit and a chat with Abdullah, journalist Andrew Drury also interviewed British ISIS bride, Shamima Begum on the trip. Drury opined that the UK government and the public must address this problem.
He said: ‘People have seen Shamima and some of them want her to rot, but what do you want for this little boy? Who was only eight years old when he went out there, should he rot too?
The journalist, disturbed to see the depraved conditions in which these young children are having to live their lives in Syria detention camps, told Daily Mail that a female prison officer told him that all the children in there have done and seen some very bad things under the ISIS regime. The journalist expressed his angst while adding that the children in there, most of whom weren’t even 10 years old, were asked to hold an AK-47 by ISIS.
ISIS encourages having as many children as possible
Over the course of its ‘Caliphate’ project (2014–2017), the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) sought to indoctrinate and radicalise minor children, in some cases as young as 4-years-old, to make them understand the world through ISIS’ binary view of jihad. It is ISIS’ effort to instil extremism and jihadism in the minds of these young children and then actively recruit them as their next generation of fighters.
Traditionally, ISIS used these radicalised children in suicide operations. At the tender age of 4 or 5, these children were introduced to detonators and rifles. These impressionable minds were encouraged to watch public stonings, amputations and beheadings, serving to inculcate natural feelings of anger and vengeance. Such an emotional reprogramming culminates in the acceptance by children of violence as a natural way of life and helps youngsters move to violence themselves.