Cubs of the Caliphate

The Children of ISIS

A Syrian child carries a mortar shell in Aleppo, Syria, September 7, 2013. Hamid Khatib / Reuters

Since its rise, the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) has prominently featured children in its propaganda. In the past few weeks, the group has released three short videos of children, whose ages range from 10 to 15 years old, in training and one in which children feature in their videos of atrocities. One video depicts young boys participating in a live-fire exercise inside an ISIS “kill house;” that is, an indoor firing range used to train recruits with live ammunition on how to infiltrate a residential structure and take control of the premises. The children learn how to approach and enter the property before moving from room to room. They learn how to subdue and remove an occupant to use as a potential hostage. The children are trained as snipers and taught how to ambush a moving vehicle. A video released on July 4 showed children executing 25 Syrian soldiers and in a 22-minute video released from the Speicher massacre in Tikrit, children were among the executioners.

To ISIS, children are not just valuable propaganda; they are full-fledged militants who can kill. They are what ISIS calls the “Cubs of the Caliphate,” a phenomenon we studied for our forthcoming book, Small Arms: Children and Terrorism, which is about the many ways in which terrorist organizations recruit children worldwide. After careful analysis of ISIS’ propaganda, social media, and interviews with child escapees conducted by other journalists and aid workers, we have a clearer picture of the ISIS recruitment and training model.

To ISIS, children are not just valuable propaganda; they are full-fledged militants who can kill.

The children of ISIS fall into five categories: those born to foreign fighters or emigrants; those born to local fighters; those who had been abandoned and found their way into ISIS-controlled orphanage; those coercively taken from their parents; and those who voluntarily joined the Islamic State. The children in training camps tend to be those who have been taken from families or found in orphanages. Children in ISIS-controlled schools,

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