Terrorism

Life is bleak and short for youth ISIS recruits

By Khalid al-Taie

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Child fighters from the 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria', known as "cubs of the caliphate" are seen in a photograph that was circulated on extremist social media sites.

For more than two years, Abu Walid has heard no news of his son, Ahmed, who joined the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) at the age of 15.

Abu Walid, who asked to use a pseudonym, spoke of his son with great reluctance, saying he had disowned him after that decision, which he described as a great shock to the whole family.

His son had been "like any ordinary school student", he told Diyaruna. But a month or two after ISIS overran Ramadi, "he fled from the house".

"After asking around, we learned he had joined the ranks of ISIS, and since then we have not heard anything about him," he said.

"I do not care about his fate now. He is dead to me, even if he is still alive. As long as he chooses the path of terrorism, I disown him."

Abu Walid accused ISIS of brainwashing his son with false slogans and extreme religious ideas, along with many other youth.

"He is not my son now," Abu Walid said. "He is another person. He is a terrorist."

Many recruitment methods

ISIS has used many methods to recruit fighters into its ranks, especially children and adolescents, who are known as the "cubs" or "soldiers" of the caliphate.

The group initially enticed people to join through its use of slogans that claimed it was seeking to create "a just state based on sharia", Iraqi Human Rights Commission spokesman Ali al-Bayati told Diyaruna.

"Many, especially young people, were ready to accept these lies and deal with them as facts," he said. "The idea became rooted in their minds that they had a duty to engage in the installation of this alleged state and defend it to death."

"ISIS also claimed that it came to support and protect the Sunni people in Iraq against what it described as persecution at the hands of the Shia," he said, describing this as mere propaganda that was calculated to win support.

After Iraqis became wise to this, especially as the group was attacking Sunnis, Shias and other minorities alike, he said, ISIS changed tactics, and began to intimidate families into handing over their children.

Many ISIS elements, most of whom were teenagers themselves, surrendered to the Iraqi forces during the recent liberation battles, he said, and some claimed the group had forced them to join under threat of death.

Al-Bayati noted that forced conscription is yet further proof of the group's brutality and its disregard for the fate of the people.

Forcing youth to fight

ISIS was "taking from each house a child or a young man by force of arms", Anbar provincial council member Naeem al-Koud told Diyaruna. "The head of the family who refuses the orders exposes himself and his family to death."

The group has imposed mandatory conscription in the few remaining areas it controls in Iraq to compensate for its heavy losses on the battlefield and the escape of many of its fighters to unknown destinations.

Al-Koud said he believes the group has succeeded in deceiving and misguiding many of the youth, turning them into wild monsters that are loyal to ISIS until their last breath.

Those who have been indoctrinated with the group's ideology are its main source of strength, he said, and are far more dangerous than those who took up arms by force or out of self-interest.

A few teenage ISIS elements expressed remorse after being captured as they fought to hold onto ISIS-controlled territory in the Upper Euphrates region, said Sheikh Mohammed Hamad al-Dulaimi of the Upper Euphrates Tribes Brigade.

They claimed they had been deceived and misled by ISIS, he said, "but now they are in a situation where regret is not useful. The judiciary will take its course with them and will decide their fate".

Most people in western Anbar refused to obey the orders of ISIS, al-Dulaimi said, noting that despite the intimidation it practiced there, the group failed to recruit young men by force.

Residents trapped in these areas have become fully aware of the true nature of ISIS, he said, which has brought them only killing, destruction and persecution.

"ISIS is in the dying stage, and its death will not be late," he added.

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