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Islamic State increasingly using kids

Islamic State increasingly using kids


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The boy appears to be no older than 12. He hugs his father, climbs into an armored vehicle packed with explosives and then kisses his father's hand before departing on a mission that ends in a fireball on the horizon.

That attack in Aleppo last month was one of at least 89 cases over the past year in which the Islamic State employed children or teenagers in suicide missions, according to new research that indicates the terrorist group is sending youths to their deaths in greater and greater numbers.

The father-son sequence was memorialized in propaganda photos released last month by the Islamic State, adding to an expanding collection of online eulogies that provides insight into how the organization uses children in combat operations and mass-casualty attacks on civilians in Iraq and Syria.

"The Islamic State is mobilizing children and youth at an increasing and unprecedented rate," according to a report by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. A copy was provided to the Washington Post.

The study describes the Islamic State's use of children in suicide attacks as part of a broader strategy to cultivate a generation of school-age militants indoctrinated in the group's ideology and completely inured to its extreme brand of violence.

Since its emergence as a dominant force in Syria, the Islamic State has frequently cast children in roles designed to shock outsiders.

The new study is the first comprehensive catalog of cases in which the Islamic State used children in missions where they were expected to die.

Roughly 60 percent of the victims were categorized as "adolescent," meaning ages 12 to 16. None was older than 18, and some were as young as 8 or 9, according to researchers at Georgia State University who were involved in the project.

The use of children in combat has often been a sign of desperation, as was the case in Nazi Germany in the closing months of World War II. But researchers said that the Islamic State is not being forced to rely on underage fighters because of dwindling adult ranks.

Instead, they said that the group seems to employ children for reasons including their propaganda impact and ability to evade detection, as well as a system of values that regards even young lives as subordinate to the cause of re-establishing a "caliphate."

"It is striking that children are being integrated into the ISIS war machine not as substitutes but as soldiers and suicide attackers fighting alongside adult (militants)," said Charlie Winter, a senior research associate at Georgia State and co-author of the report.

Winter said that the practice could intensify if the Islamic State loses territory and fighters.

The vast majority of the children and teenagers used in suicide missions were from Iraq or Syria, where the Islamic State controls an area the size of West Virginia, according to the report. But others came from the Middle East and North Africa, and at least four were from Western nations, with two from Britain and one each from France and Australia.

Other terrorist groups, including Boko Haram, have tended to conceal their use of children in suicide attacks because of public scorn for the tactic, said Mia Bloom, a professor at Georgia State and a co-author of the report.

The Islamic State, by contrast, "is absolutely advertising it and making it routine," Bloom said.

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