Children formerly captive under the Islamic State remain committed to the jihadist ideology into which they have been brainwashed, posing a threat to the Kurdish communities receiving civilians liberated from Islamic State-held areas in Iraq.
The Kurdish outlet Rudaw reports on attempts in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) territory of northern Iraq to keep civilians safe from the “Caliphate cubs,” many of whom spent months being indoctrinated in Islamic State terrorist training camps. In Duhok, a Kurdish-held city near the Islamic State territory of Mosul, authorities have relegated teen minors who vow allegiance to the Islamic State to its prisons.
“Sixty-eight juveniles [since last year] have been held prisoner in our jail,” Duhok’s head of juvenile detention, Zaki Salih Musa, told Rudaw. He notes that these children are not all Arab Muslims; many are Kurds, and some are Yazidis who renounced their religion for Islam. The Islamic State considers Yazidis “devil worshippers,” claiming their supreme god, Melek Taus, is a representation of Lucifer. Yazidis believe that the angel known in the West as Lucifer served his penance in hell and has returned as a representative of God before humanity.
Musa tells Rudaw that paramount among concerns that officials have regarding these minors is that they have been trained to be proud of the Islamic State and continue to kill throughout their lives. “Those who have been arrested on charges of terror are not feeling remorseful and they are still proud of being ISIS,” he tells the outlet. Musa says the situation is unprecedented for him: “I have been working in this reforms center for 15 years, all the arrestees have had expressed regret for their crimes,” except the “Caliphate cubs.”
The Islamic State has used “cubs” at the forefront of its propaganda efforts, releasing videos that depict both teens and toddlers committing gruesome murders, with jihadis vowing to the West that the Islamic State will continue to exist for generations to come. The group has released “training” as well as “execution” videos, showcasing terrorist training camps in which children recite the Quran, learn how to shoot, and make improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
There is no concrete estimate of the number of children the Islamic State has captured and brainwashed, though individual cases of mass abduction indicate that number has surpassed one thousand in the past three years. As recently as last Thursday, local Iraqi outlets reported that Islamic State terrorists abducted as many as 150 children from Tal Afar, northern Iraq.
“The Islamic State is training children that were abducted from Tel Afar, Yazidi families and Mosul’s families to kill civilians and security members using booby-trapped vehicles and explosive belts,” Iraq’s State of Law Coalition member Nahla al-Hababi told reporters. Mass graves found throughout Iraq and Syria indicate that not all children went forcibly, and many were killed for refusing to convert to Islam or fight alongside the terrorist group.
Children do not only serve as executioners in controlled Islamic State settings; the group forces them to fight in battle against Kurds, Iraqi soldiers, and other coalition members. An estimated 300 children, believed to be Syrian “cubs,” were killed in battle in the first two weeks of the operation to liberate Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq and the Islamic State’s regional capital.
The Islamic State aims to create an oppressive, sharia-governed government for Sunni Muslims only. Its goals are not only military, but social, and as such, it has implemented a number of tactics designed to destroy other civilizations. Abducting Kurdish and Yazidi children and forcing them to fight for the jihadi cause is one of them. In its targeted genocide against the Yazidi people, abducting women and girls and forcing them into sex slavery remains a main vehicle of oppression.
For years, the Islamic State has operated a Yazidi sex slave market in Iraq, raiding villages, abducting the women and girls, and selling them for as little as ten cigarettes. The women are then systematically raped by their “owners” and often sold and re-sold, and getting pregnant in the process.
Repeatedly raping and impregnating Yazidi women is meant to guarantee that, should the women return to their conservative communities, they will be seen as “unmarriageable,” their children the product of rape by Muslim men. Women and girls who escaped the Islamic State were subjected to “virginity tests” upon their return, for the information of prospective suitors. This has led many Yazidi survivors to illegal abortions, ostracism, and suicide.
To combat the Islamic State’s campaign against Yazidi society, the head of the religion, Baba Sheikh Khurto Hajji Ismail, issued a statement in 2014 urging communities to accept former sex slaves as members of their community.