Sunday, April 06, 2014
The next generation of jihadists
Dr. Ronen Yitzhak
"Oh, mother, don't be sad at my departure." These are the opening words to the theme song played at the training camp for children in northern Syria, established by the al-Qaida-affiliated organization, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (abbreviated "ISIS").
The core of this organization, founded in 2004 by Abu Musab al-Zarkawi in Iraq, has recently intensified its activities in Iraq and, at the beginning of this year, took control of several cities in the Anbar Province in the west of the country on the border with Syria and Jordan. The group's operatives -- infamous for their brutality, including beheadings -- have caused considerable casualties among the Iraqi security forces struggling to impose order and security in the country that has been embroiled in a civil war ever since the American invasion and the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime in 2003.
Since the onset of the Syrian civil war in March of 2011, ISIS operatives have fought with the Islamist opposition trying to depose Syrian President Bashar Assad, with the intention of instituting an Islamic caliphate.
Despite international law prohibiting the participation of children in military activities, which places responsibility for preventing this practice on governments and groups involved in hostilities, according to a Human Rights Watch report more than a quarter million children under the age of 18 are presently involved in armed conflicts across the globe. The inclusion of children to the ranks of terrorist organizations is not a new phenomenon and is rather common among Islamist terrorist groups in the Middle East, and among groups operating in Africa and East Asia. Children have been used to perpetrate terrorist attacks and suicide bombings in Afghanistan and Iraq against American forces stationed there. The working assumption was that Western forces would avoid harming children, thereby increasing the chances of a successful attack. During the Second Intifada there were at least nine recorded cases of suicide bombings against Israeli targets involving children. This became acceptable practice across all the Palestinian terrorist groups in their fight against Israel, although the practice did not always receive official Islamic religious license.
Indeed, most Islamic scholars oppose the phenomenon of enlisting children for terrorist activities, citing the Prophet Muhammad, who refused to allow boys into his army because they were too young. Sheikh Omar al-Dib, director-general of the most renowned religious university in the Sunni Muslim world, Al-Azhar University, rejected the phenomenon outright claiming it was prohibited by Islam, arguing that it unjustly sentences children to death. Other Islamic scholars have accused those who enlist children of premeditated murder.
Despite all this, it appears the phenomenon has been spreading, and not just among the Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza -- which have erected summer camps where children learn how to kidnap Israeli soldiers, place roadside bombs and fire rifles -- but also among the radical Islamist groups busy fighting Assad in Syria. ISIS, active in northern Syria, has deepened its influence among the children of the region and enlists them to carry out terrorist attacks against Assad's forces. According to the official Information Telegraph Agency of Russia, ISIS has enlisted some 50 children between the ages of seven and 13 to its ranks, who are currently located in a special training base in northern Syria. The base is slated to absorb dozens more Muslim children.
During their 25-day training period, the children learn to use an assortment of firearms, undergo Islamic jihadist ideological indoctrination and are made to watch and cheer as "infidels" are beheaded. At the conclusion of their training, the children are assigned to pre-determined terrorist missions.
The future does not bode well for any of these children, sentenced to a life of terrorism. These kids, who today are taught the tools needed to take part in terrorist actions across Syria based on this Islamic Jihadist ideology, will one day become the new terrorist leaders in the region. Not only will they fight Assad's heretic regime, they will fight the other heretic regimes neighboring in the Middle East.
The writer is head of the Middle East Studies Department at Western Galilee College.