A 14-year-old boy who willingly joined the Islamic State (ISIS) managed to escape the terrorist group’s grasp by strapping on an explosive vest and hoping that, by surrendering to Iraqi authorities, he would not be killed.
The boy, whom The New York Times identifies as Usaid Barho, says he joined the Islamic State because “I believe in Islam,” and was told that Shiite Muslims were killing and raping people like him. He believed it and joined, but it did not take long for him to realize that that jihadist group did not observe the religion in a way that he would like.
Speaking to the Times in one of the first interviews of its kind between a Western media outlet and an admitted member of the Islamic State, the boy explains that “the way they are killing innocent people” made him uncomfortable. He also claims to have seen a number of violations of Islamic law, namely smoking–commonplace among Islamic State fighters, despite being widely punished among those within ISIS parameters who are not jihadist terrorists–and homosexuality. Barho says he saw a number of same-sex jihadist couples engaging in sexual activity behind the tents to which recruits were relegated.
To escape, Barho claims to have volunteered to be a suicide bomber, believing that it would be easier to surrender as such in a civilian area than attempting to do so in battle, under the rain of gunfire. While most of his story is unconfirmed, the Times reports that his surrender was captured on video, as he caused a scene by telling authorities he was strapped to a bomb.
Barho’s story has served to highlight the rampant use of children for the Islamic State’s nefarious means–boys for fighting and girls for sex. The Islamic State’s approval of pedophilia in relation to Yazidi and Kurdish girls kidnapped from captured villages has been codified in a guide to keeping sex slaves, released in Raqqa, the “capital” of the Islamic State in Syria. The guide permits rape of any slave kept exclusively by one man, and declares that pre-pubescent girls may be raped only if they are “fit” for sexual activity. Since to be pre-pubescent is, by definition, to also be unfit for sexual activity, it remains unclear how a jihadist determines whether it is proper under ISIS rules to rape his girl slave.
The Islamic State has also regularly featured children–mainly boys–in its propaganda videos, boasting of the group’s alleged military prowess. In one example, a video titled “Blood of Jihad 2” shows children learning how to use weapons and being trained in battle. Similar photographic evidence of training camps designed to teach children how to engage in war was disseminated through social media. These children were proudly featured displaying their weapons. A CBS/Associated Press report released in November notes that there has been a significant increase in the Islamic State’s recruitment of children in Syria and Iraq.