Islamic State reportedly using child soldiers as reinforcements in Al-Hasakah

The Islamic State is fighting the US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in Al-Hasakah province. Among the reinforcements IS is calling into shore up its forces are child soldiers from Deir e-Zor province, the director of grassroots activist network Deir e-Zor is Being Slaughtered Silently Abu Mujahid a-Shami tells Syria Direct’s Ammar Hamou.

Last week, Deir e-Zor is Being Slaughtered Silently media campaign reported that “16 Deir e-Zor children under age 18 have been killed in IS’s battles in Al-Hasakah” since the beginning of the year.

Children “are drawn to money and power,” a-Shami says, adding that “there is nothing the family can do to stop them.”

The use of child soldiers is well documented, with propaganda videos showing off training camps for “Caliphate Cubs.” Last May, a-Shami told Syria Direct that the Islamic State, which controls most of the eastern desert province, has recruited more than 600 Deir e-Zor children.

Five of those children carried out suicide car bombings in Al-Hasakah, a-Shami says.

The Islamic State “fills children’s minds with blind faith, even to the point of blowing themselves up.”

Q: Deir e-Zor is Being Slaughtered Silently reports that 16 children were killed fighting with the Islamic State in Al-Hasakah. When did this occur and how did your organization document it?

The Islamic State’s battles with the Syrian Democratic Forces in Deir e-Zor have forced IS to call in a lot of reinforcements from Deir e-Zor. More than 20 percent of the reinforcements are made up of children [Syria Direct could not independently verify this claim].

We confirmed the identities of the children by their names, and they are from the eastern, western and northern Deir e-Zor countryside.

Q: How does the ongoing recruitment of children reflect on the organization’s popularity?

IS lures children with money, among other tactics. They are drawn to money and power. If a child decides to join the “Cubs of the Caliphate,” then there’s nothing the family can do to stop them.

Q: You told me that five of the children killed in Al-Hasakah died carrying out car bombings. Does this mean that IS uses children to commit suicide missions?

That’s right. IS sent five children to carry out car bombings in Al-Hasakah.

The Islamic State has its so-called sharia “jurists,” and they have their ways of discussing and working with the children to get what they want. They fill children’s minds with blind faith, even to the point of blowing themselves up.

Q: What happens to children who don’t join IS? Are there education or employment opportunities in Deir e-Zor?

Unfortunately, the children of Deir e-Zor have two choices: join IS or beg. There is no alternative amidst shortages of the basic needs of life and the school closures.

Ammar Hamou

Ammar Hammou is from Douma city in outer Damascus. He studied journalism at Damascus University and left Syria in 2011.

Maria Nelson

Maria Nelson was a 2014-2015 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad program (CASA I) in Amman, Jordan. She holds a BA in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University, with a certificate in Arabic Language and Culture.