An ISIS "cub" prepares to execute a prisoner in an abandoned amusement park in a video released earlier this month.
Past and present, Muslim militants continue relying on the same inhumane tactics to terrorize "infidels." The devastating effects of one of these occurred last August in Turkey: a child "recruited" by the Islamic State blew himself up in a suicide attack that left at least 51 people—mostly fellow children—dead.
This child was one of countless, nameless, faceless children seized, beat, and indoctrinated in Islam, until they become willing "martyrs" and executioners. Known as the "cubs of the caliphate," they are graduates from "schools [established by ISIS] to prepare hundreds of children and teenagers to conduct suicide attacks." The Islamic State is fond of showcasing these abducted children turned criminals.
A few days ago, it posted a video of its "cubs," most who appear to be about 10 years of age, walking around an abandoned amusement park, where they savagely execute hostages tied to rides. One child, reportedly only four years old, shoots five rounds into a tied up victim while screaming "Allahu Akbar!" Another little boy slits the throat of his victim next to a kiddie train before planting the knife in his back. Last November ISIS posted another video of four children—one Russian, one Uzbek, and two Iraqis, aged between 10 to14—executing civilians.
One Christian clergyman explained the Islamic State's strategy: "They dislocate the families, they take the newborn babies, and they put them in Islamist families," where they are indoctrinated in jihad, or what is called in the West, "terrorist activities."
Children who managed to escape ISIS say they were repeatedly beat and fed "endless propaganda," including that they must kill their non-Muslim parents: "We weren't allowed to cry but I would think about my mother, think about her worrying about me and I'd try and cry quietly," one little boy said.
Seizing and indoctrinating children to fight is a staple of jihadists everywhere.
Seizing and indoctrinating children for the jihad is hardly limited to ISIS. Over the last three years, Boko Haram, the Islamic jihadi group terrorizing Nigeria, has kidnapped, enslaved, beat and indoctrinated more than 10,000 boys—some as young as 5 years of age, and many from Christian backgrounds—into becoming jihadis/terrorists.
"They told us, 'It's all right for you to kill and slaughter even your parents,'" said a former captive who witnessed a beheading on the day he was enslaved. Other boys held down the victim and explained: "This is what you have to do to get to heaven."
Girls were kept in a separate camp and raped, often by captive boys, as a way to show the latter the boons of becoming warriors for Allah (the deity that permits his slaves to enslave and rape "infidel" women). An escaped girl, Rachel, now 13 and pregnant by rape, told of how dozens of boys from her village tied up a kidnapped man and beheaded him. They told the younger children watching not to "have feelings about it." "If you go there [Boko Haram training camps], you can see 12-year-olds talking about burning down a village," said another escaped girl, adding "They have converted."
A photo released by Boko Haram's Al-Urwa Al-Wuthqa Media in early 2015 shows its "cubs of the Caliphate" in training.
A boy, now 10, served as babysitter for infants and toddlers kidnapped or conceived by rape: "The children, none older than 4, watched jihadist propaganda videos and rehearsed a game called 'suicide bomber' where they ripped open sacks of sand strapped to their torsos."
These Nigerian children, some as young as 6, have been used to terrorize neighboring Cameroon, a Christian majority nation. During a jihadi raid, more than 100 screaming boys suddenly appeared—barefoot, unarmed, or swinging only machetes—and ran toward a military unit which gunned them down. As Col. Didier Badjeck explained, "It's better to kill a boy than have 1,000 victims. It's causing us problems with international organizations, but they're not on the front lines. We are."
Another report, published just days ago, tells of more experiences from abducted boys and girls, and how Boko Haram showed the former to "have fun" with the latter, including by "learning to subdue a struggling victim during sexual assault." One escaped 16-year-old girl said, "I was raped almost on a daily basis by different men. When they became fed-up with me, they asked the little boy, who has often watched them do it, to take over."
But it's not just ISIS and Boko Haram who seize, enslave, beat and indoctrinate boys for jihad (and girls to "make it up" to the boys). This practice is also taking place in Yemen, Somalia and even "moderate" Mali. Indeed, a cursory Internet search reveals the extent of this phenomenon. In 2012, 300 Christian children were abducted and forcibly converted to Islam in Bangladesh. After convincing impoverished Christian families in Bangladesh to spend what little money they had to send their children to study at supposed "mission hostels," Muslim conmen would "pocket the money" and "sell the children to Islamic schools elsewhere in the country 'where imams force them to abjure Christianity.'" The children are then instructed in Islam and beaten. After being fully indoctrinated, the once Christian children are asked if they are "ready to give their lives for Islam," presumably by becoming jihadi suicide-bombers.
An ISIS child soldier in Mosul, Iraq, 2014.
Why are Islamic jihad groups resorting to this tactic of enslaving and indoctrinating children into becoming jihadis? Most Western analysts believe this is a reflection of weakened, desperate groups: "The growing trend for ISIS to use child soldiers as suicide bombers, particularly in Iraq, has been suggested as a sign of how stretched their resources are in the region," noted one report.
Or it could suggest that ISIS, Boko Haram, etc., are simply following another page of the jihadi playbook. For over a millennium, Muslim caliphates specialized in seizing and enslaving tens if not hundreds of thousands of young non-Muslim boys, converting them to Islam, and then beating, indoctrinating, and training them into becoming jihadis extraordinaire.
The most famous of these were the Ottoman Empire's janissaries—Christian boys who were seized from their homes, converted to and indoctrinated in Islam and jihad, and then unleashed on their former families. As the author of Balkan Wars explains, "Despite their Christian upbringing, they became fanatical Muslims and earnestly maintained their faith as warriors of Islam. This cruel practice of what today can be defined as the 'brain cleansing' of the Christian populations of the Ottoman Empire is perhaps the most inhuman Turkish legacy."
That Turkey is now suffering from the effects of this system—such as when a child suicide bomber killed 51 people in the name of jihad—may be called "ironic."
A 2014 ISIS video featured Kazakhstani children at a terrorist training camp.
Western analysts would not be oblivious to this "new" jihadi tactic—optimistically portraying the reliance on children as proof that jihadi groups have "stretched their resources"—if they had Islamic studies departments that actually disseminated facts instead of pro-Islamic myths and propaganda. As with all unsavory aspects of Islamic history, the institution of child slave soldiers has been thoroughly whitewashed. Although young, terrified boys were seized from the clutches of their devastated parents, the academic narrative is that poor Christian families were somewhat happy to see their boys taken to the caliphate where they would have a "bright future" as "soldiers and statesmen."
The price of the modern West's inability to comprehend Islam's medieval tactics is not just ignorance concerning the nature of the enemy, but ignorance concerning his victims as well—in this case, countless, nameless children. As Mausi Segun, a human rights activist discussing the plight of Boko Haram's child jihadis put it: "There's almost an entire generation of boys missing. My guess is that a large majority of them will die in the conflict [as forced jihadis]." And they will die completely unknown in the West—just another victim group to be sacrificed on the altar of political correctness, lest Islam's reputation be besmirched.
Raymond Ibrahim is a Judith Friedman Rosen fellow at the Middle East Forum and a Shillman fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.