The Somalia-based al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab is using death threats to coerce civilians into surrendering children from their community ages 9 to 15 “for indoctrination and military training,” reveals the Human Rights Watch (HRW) group.
Al-Shabaab’s threat of handing over children as young as 8 “or face attack” has reportedly already forced community elders to surrender hundreds of children, including 300 in one region alone, reports HRW.
The United Nations Security Council’s Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG) has confirmed that child abductions, notably from schools in Somalia, and al-Shabaab’s use of children as jihadists significantly increased in the second quarter of 2017.
“Al-Shabaab’s ruthless recruitment campaign is taking rural children from their parents so they can serve this militant armed group,” declared Laetitia Bader, senior Africa researcher at HRW, using an alternate spelling for the name of the murderous al-Qaeda branch. “To escape that cruel fate, many children have fled school or their homes.”
“Since 2015, the armed group has opened several large Islamic religious schools in areas under their control, strengthened indoctrination methods including by bringing in younger children, and pressured teachers to retrain and teach al-Shabab’s curriculum in schools,” explains HRW, noting that al-Shabaab has already recruited “thousands” of children.
In September, village elders told HRW that the jihadist organization demanded them to hand over dozens of young children “ages 9 to 15,” adding that al-Shabaab issued “death threats” to those who refused to relinquish their children, but the group has yet to enforce their demands.
Nevertheless, HRW reports:
“[I]n September al-Shabab fighters forcibly took at least 50 boys and girls from two schools in Burhakaba district and transported them to Bulo Fulay, which witnesses say hosts a number of religious schools and a major training facility,” reports HRW.
Two weeks later, a large group of armed al-Shabab fighters with their faces covered returned to the village, entered another local school, and threatened and beat the teacher to hand over children.
The teacher allegedly resisted al-Shabaab’s demands, telling HRW:
They wanted 25 children ages 8 to 15. They didn’t say why, but we know that it’s because they want to indoctrinate them and then recruit them. After they hit me, some of the children started crying and tried to run out of the classroom. But the fighters were all around. They caned a 7-year-old boy who tried to escape.
Al-Shabaab kidnapped elders who refused to surrender children from their respective villages, releasing them only after they handed over the kids.
“Some residents said that their only option to protect their children was to send them, often unaccompanied, to areas outside of al-Shabaab control—a difficult and dangerous journey given the threat of Al-Shabab abduction along the way,” notes HRW.
Citing community elders and local monitors, HRW reveals that al-Shabaab’s recruitment efforts have forced an estimated 500 people, often unaccompanied children, to flee their homes as of October.
HRW’s revelation came as U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration continues to intensify America’s military campaign against al-Shabaab, launching a record number of airstrikes in Somalia in 2017.
“Since late September 2017, al-Shabab has ordered elders, teachers in Islamic religious schools, and communities in rural areas to provide hundreds of children as young as 8 or face attack,” reports HRW. “The armed group’s increasingly aggressive child recruitment campaign started in mid-2017 with reprisals against communities that refused.”
Since it undertook a violent terror campaign against the government of Somalia at the end of 2006, the al-Qaeda-linked group has reportedly already recruited “thousands of children for indoctrination” and to become the next generation of jihadists.
The U.S. Department of State (DOS) reported last year that there are “several thousand” jihadists fighting on behalf of al-Shabaab, which considered one of the deadliest and most prolific terrorist groups in the world.
In 2016 alone, the group carried out 332 attacks, killing 741 people and wounding 921—placing the group among the top five deadliest terrorist groups in the world, revealed DOS.
Besides forcing young children to join its ranks, al-Shabaab is also reportedly deploying beautiful females as spies against security forces combating the al-Qaeda affiliate in a Kenyan region that borders Somalia.