Children as young as eight are being recruited as IS soldiers and suicide bombers. Dateline reveals disturbing images of them in action and the punishment for those who don’t obey.
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In one video made by IS, a young boy is seen hacking the head off a teddy bear, before holding up the knife to the camera.

Others obtained by Evan Williams and screened on Dateline show large groups of children undergoing violent training sessions, preparing them to kill and be killed.

“How young would be the youngest boy that wants to be a suicide bomber?” he asks 14-year-old ‘Abu Ibrahim’, who managed to escape.

“The youngest I saw do an operation was eight-years-old,” he says. “They said you should give them everything, even sacrifice yourself.”

The so-called Islamic State is believed to have tens of thousands of children under its control in Syria and Iraq – actively recruiting and radicalising them from a young age.

They call them ‘Cubs of the Caliphate’.

Videos also show them beheading a Syrian officer and apparently executing two alleged Russian spies.

And young recruits are forced to not only watch films like those, but real executions being carried out in front of them.

“They showed us how they kill President Bashar’s soldiers,” 11-year-old ‘Ahmed’ tells Evan. “Sometimes we tried not to watch, but when we did we were scared.”

Evan also meets 14-year-old 'Omar', who was tortured for a month and a half after refusing to join IS and then publicly punished.

“They cut my hand off with a butcher’s knife,” he tells Evan just days after managing to escape Syria. “Then they cut off my foot and put them both in front of me for me to see.”

The attack was carried out by a man known as ‘The Bulldozer’.

“They brought children and teenagers and told them, ‘all those who fight against us will have their hands and feet cut off’,” he says. “I have given up on life, I cannot walk, I cannot hold anything.”

Children are also taught to spy on their parents, who risk death if they object to their children joining IS.

“The thing IS depends on most is the children,” ‘Emil’ tells Evan. She used to be an IS teacher, who prepared girls as young as ten to seek death.

“We push them into jihad. We tell them that we will all die martyrs and reach Heaven, all of us… basically they’re brainwashing children,” she says.

“In the future they will attack and destroy many countries, this is what they have got planned. God willing, they will fail.”

Apologies, but this story is no longer available for copyright reasons - you can however read the transcript below.

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Comment: IS violently punishes children who refuse to join
It’s the cruelty that haunts me, writes Evan Williams about his Dateline story on IS recruiting children as young as eight and punishing those who don’t obey.

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An appeal has been set up to help 14-year-old 'Omar' - click here to find out more.

Credits

  • Editor: Steve Gibbs

Transcript

The so-called Islamic State has tens of thousands of children under its control. Children they are now actively recruiting as their next generation of fighters. Ten-year-old Hamude was one of them.

HAMUDE, 10 YEARS OLD (Translation): They showed us how to load and strip the guns and how to be in the shooting position. So we stripped them and assembled them and put them against the wall.

Getting more information about ISIS military training isn’t easy. Thousands of Syrian refugees now live in Turkish border towns … but ISIS is here too.

Ever since we have arrived people have been telling how there are Islamic State sympathisers living among the Syrians here in Turkey that means most of them are too afraid to speak to us. But some children were willing to speak out on condition of anonymity. At 14, Abu Ibrahim – not his real name - joined the ISIS army after they convinced him they were pure Muslims.

ABU IBRAHIM, 15 YEARS OLD (Translation): I gave everything I had to Islamic State’s victory because I thought it was being oppressed by everyone. They said you should give everything to them, even sacrifice yourself.

But when they threatened to kill his brother Abu Ibrahim lost faith in ISIS and fled. ISIS videos show children being put through rigorous physical training. But Abu Ibrahim says they are also being taught something much more dangerous.

ABU IBRAHIM (Translation): In this religious military camp you learn ‘listening and obeying’. You declare ‘I must listen and obey even if I have to die.’ You must always repeat ‘I’m listening and obeying.’

ISIS calls these children Cubs of the Caliphate, Abu Ibrahim says from what he and others saw, thousands of children are being systematically recruited across ISIS controlled territory in to the three different units of the ISIS army – and that children are central to its long term strategic plan.

ABU IBRAHIM (Translation): There are three army sections, the state army, the Caliphate army and the Adnan Army.

This IS video shows what Abu Ibrahim calls the second stage of basic training for children where they are further coerced to commit violence. All of this seemingly unaffected by hundreds of coalition air strikes. It’s physically hard but the main aim is to create a new army of unquestioning, and what ISIS deems, ideologically pure fighters.

ABU IBRAHIM (Translation): They are making a new generation for the Caliphate to fight infidels… There are many children who now have absolute loyalty.

It's that loyalty that ISIS is exploiting for another horrifying purpose. It starts with showing the children videos of suicide attacks.

ABU IBRAHIM (Translation): The scenes are repeated again and again and when a child sees them he thinks ‘I want to do the same as them.’ So they go to ISIS and say “I want to become a suicide bomber.”

REPORTER: And how young would be the youngest boy that wants to be a suicide bomber that you saw?

ABU IBRAHIM (Translation): The youngest I saw do an operation was eight years old.

REPORTER: Eight?! Was just a child.

ABU IBRAHIM (Translation): Yes, and you will never be able to persuade him to give up his ideas.

Getting young children to sacrifice their lives without question requires intensive indoctrination. We track down an insider who is in charge of their process, until just a few weeks before we met her, Emil was an ISIS teacher who prepared girls as young as 10 to seek death.

EMIL, IS TEACHER (Translation): We push them into jihad. We tell them that all of us will die martyrs and reach Heaven, all of us. It is written in the Qu’ran you have to fight Jihad.

She too narrowly escaped after becoming disillusioned by the scale of the violence.

EMIL (Translation): The most important thing to make them understand is that President Bashar’s state is infidel - that everyone should fight them and that is God’s word. Basically they’re brainwashing children.

These boys have also recently escaped ISIS controlled Syria. Now in Turkey, they attend weekly deradicalisation classes to counter the influence of Islamic State indoctrination.

HAMUDE (Translation): They come when we entre the mosque and ask “Do you pray?” and we say “Yes.” Then they say “Do you love al-Baghdadi?” We say “Yes.” Then they say, ‘Are you sure you love you love al-Baghdadi?’ We answer “Of course.” Then they say ‘What about your relatives?’

Children are then taught to spy on their parents who risk death if they object to their children joining the ISIS army. Boys are then routinely gathered in town squares. Here, they're offered money and food to join ISIS and fed anti-western tirades.

LEADER (Translation): Slaughter him. Why? Because he is an infidel.

10-year-old Basheer also not his real name, was among them.

BASHEER, 10 YEARS OLD (Translation): When they gather us they say, ‘Come with us and fight jihad in the name of God and you will enter Heaven.’ They say ‘You will enjoy bliss and we will give you lots of things’. And now many children have joined them.

Boys are then sat in front of big screens and forced to watch videos of ISIS brutality. Propaganda films like this one which shows the execution of Syrian soldiers in Palmyra.

AHMED, 11 YEARS OLD (Translation): They showed us how they kill President Bashar’s soldiers.

Ahmed is 11.

AHMED (Translation): Sometimes we tried not to watch but when we did we were scared.

They say they're often forced to watch real executions too.

LEADER (Translation): To the Christians gathering to conquer our State. You will fail.

But perhaps most disturbingly of all - ISIS releases videos showing these executions are increasingly being carried out by the boys themselves. Like this boy who beheaded a Syrian officer in January. Or this one - in which a by apparently executes two alleged Russian spies. Boys are told they too will be killed if they don't join ISIS by age 16. But death is not the only punishment for refusing to join ISIS. Omar is 14. He'd been serving with more moderate opposition forces. ISIS fighters captured and then tortured him to try to force him to join them.

OMAR, 14 YEARS OLD (Translation): I was strung up and tortured for a month and a half, they said ‘why don’t you pledge allegiance to Islamic State?’ ‘Why don’t you fight against the non-Muslims with us?’ But they are slaughtering Muslims.

He refused to join and was sentenced to a horrifying punishment.

OMAR (Translation): They gathered the people, they tied my hand and leg. They put my hand on a wooden block and cut my hand off with a butcher’s knife. Then cut off my foot and put them both in front of me to see.

These photos show Omar's actual amputation and the man known as The Bulldozer who severed his limbs. Omar's amputations were carried out just three weeks before we met him. He’d escaped Syria only days before. The price of his bravery is constant pain, depression and poverty.

OMAR (Translation): When I leave my house I don’t return until night because of the stairs. Since they cut off my hand and foot, I have given up on life. I cannot walk, I cannot hold anything.

Omar's public punishment was used as a warning to children not to resist ISIS.

OMAR (Translation): They brought children and teenagers and told them ‘All those that fight against us will have their hands and feet cut off.’

The message this new ISIS army of children receives is that the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad is the main target for now. But as their own videos reveal, their long-term plan is to attack the West whenever possible.

IS VIDEO (Translation): Here, here, here comes the state of Islam. It will vanquish Bashar and (his daughter) Bushra, the lowlifes and the infidels. Here, here, here comes the state of Islam. The World Trade Centre was turned into rubble, if they call me a terrorist, I will consider it an honour.

EMIL (Translation): In future they will attack and destroy many countries, that is what they have got planned. God willing, they will fail.

Producer/Reporter/Camera
EVAN WILLIAMS

Shooting AP
OLIVER ENGLEHART

Editor
STEVE GIBBS

Local Producer
YILMAZ AKINCI

3rd November 2015