ISIS turning children into human bombs
Damascus - A shrine in Syria, a crowded market in Baghdad and a hospital in Yemen were all torn apart by suicide bombers, a tactic used by Islamist terrorist groups. Suicide attacks have played a key part of the military strategies of the Islamic State (ISIS). The terror group, however, is causing even more outrage by using children dubbed “Cubs of the Caliphate” to perpetrate the attacks.
Bisher was 14 when he was trained at a camp in Raqqa, ISIS’s de facto capital in Syria, to become a suicide bomber. He escaped after his mother, a prominent dentist, paid the ransom requested by ISIS to set him free.
“I knocked on every door of ISIS officials in order to recover Bisher. I told them give me back my son. He is only a child,” said the mother, who asked to be identified as Oum Bisher.
“One Tunisian ‘emir’ yelled at me once saying: ‘I left Belgium where I lived in order to come here to protect your honour and that of all Muslim women and you have to contribute as well in the jihad with your money, soul and children.’ But I did not give up until I had my son back.”
Oum Bisher’s determination to get her son back bore fruit after two months. An ISIS leader agreed to let him go in exchange for $50,000. “I had to sell my car, my clinic and my house to secure the amount. I have fled to Turkey and swear I will not go back to Raqqa as long as a single militant remains there,” she said.
During his stay at al-Akaychari training camp, Bisher was indoctrinated with ISIS ideology and received training on how to carry out jihad, including with suicide attacks. Children were brainwashed with DVDs of jihadi operations against “infidels”, Bisher said.
They were divided into several brigades: The electronic brigade in charge of monitoring the internet and screening electronic messages; the explosives brigade tasked with planting explosive devices in cars and buildings; the martyrs’ brigade and the suicide unit in charge of fighting and conducting suicide attacks; and the kidnapping brigade.
“We used to train 16 hours a day. Those who did well were rewarded with gifts and money ranging from $50 to $250 that we received in the form of cheques, not cash money,” Bisher said
He said children, including him, were raped and filmed. The videos were used to blackmail them and prevent them from running away.
Within months of ISIS’s caliphate announced in Syria and Iraq more than two years ago, thousands of children had been recruited. From the moment they were able to recite verses from the Quran, small children were indoctrinated into believing that the most honourable act they could perform was to die in the name of ISIS.
As the conflict grew, children took a much more active role, including carrying weapons, receiving training on the use of heavy weapons, manning checkpoints on the front lines, acting as snipers and, in extreme cases, being used as suicide bombers, according to the UN children’s agency, UNICEF.
“Overall, we are seeing more children in the region being recruited at a much younger age — as young as 7 years old — and often without parental consent,” UNICEF spokeswoman Juliette Touma said.
“The pattern and the type of roles that children recruited into the different conflicts are taking up are also changing. In previous years, children used to have support roles like porters, cooks, guards and assistants to paramedics,” Touma said, noting that the number of verified cases of child recruitment more than doubled in the last year.
Human rights activists and terrorism experts said ISIS implemented a relentless recruitment operation by kidnapping vulnerable street children or exploiting impoverished families by promising to pay them monthly allowances per child.
An Iraqi activist who worked in a security prison for youth in Kirkuk noted that the detainees were mostly under the age of 15. “Many reasons drive these children to violence, including poverty, ignorance, injustice and sectarian bias and discrimination against their community [Sunni Muslims],” said the activist, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The feeling of vengeance is overwhelming among families who had lost their homes and sons. Almost all the families of children who had carried out suicide attacks have been marginalised, deprived of livelihood and persecuted on sectarian bases and this has deeply impacted children particularly,” the activist added.
Iraqi terror expert Watheq al- Hashimi contended that ISIS is increasingly relying on children to fill its ranks after suffering losses and shortages in manpower as a result of Russian and US-led air strikes on their positions in Iraq and Syria.
“After its defeat in the provinces of Saladin and Anbar, ISIS has been running low in the number of would-be suicide bombers, a problem compounded by the drop in volunteers from other countries,” Hashimi said.
There is no clear count of the number of suicide attacks committed by children but dozens are said to have been perpetrated in fights against Kurdish militias.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said ISIS used at least 18 children as suicide bombers against Kurds in Kobane in north-eastern Syria in 2015.
The Iraqi Independent Commission for Human Rights estimated in May 2015 that more than 1,000 children had been trained as suicide bombers since November 2014.
The US-based Combating Terrorism Center warned of the dramatic rise in the rate of suicide attacks committed by children, saying there were three times as many suicide operations involving children and youths in January 2016 as in the previous January.
According to Ahmad al-Ramadan, an activist in the media campaign group Deir ez-Zor is Being Slaughtered Silently, a 13-year-old boy set off a bomb in a suicide attack on troops at the city’s airport, inflicting several casualties, in the latest such attack.
“ISIS exploited the state of emptiness that children are living after the closure of schools by recruiting them and sending them to their death,” Ramadan said.
According to unofficial counts, the terror group has recruited more than 6,000 children in Deir ez-Zor in the past three years and an estimated 500 have been killed in air strikes, battle and suicide attacks, he said.
Hashimi warned that ISIS was using more children in suicide attacks “because they are more difficult to detect, arouse less suspicion and as such can reach vital areas or targets”.