ISIS use of children for suicide missions skyrocketing - US report

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Islamic State is sending children, as young as 12, to their deaths at unprecedented rates. There were three times as many child suicide bombers this year than the previous. According to US researchers, numbers are accelerating by the month.

A total of 89 children have died serving Islamic State (IS, ISIS/formerly ISIL), a Georgia State University analysis of Twitter and encrypted app Telegram has shown. Researchers scanned death notices for 12 months from January 2015 and found that children from over 14 nationalities have been used in a variety of ways by the terrorists.

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Some two-thirds of the children were aged 12-16 years old. The overall rate of under-18s has doubled in that period as well. Of the 89 deaths in the studied period, 39 percent drove suicide vehicles, while another 33 were used as foot soldiers. Others died either as propagandists or in mass casualties attacks, while a sizeable 18 percent died in so-called ‘inghimasi’ attacks, where a small group attacks enemy positions with light weapons, before blowing themselves up with explosives.

Of those killed in the studied period, 31 percent were Syrian, 25 of mixed Syrian-Iraqi descent and 11 percent Iraqi. And the remainder are a mix from Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Tunisia, Nigeria and also the UK, France and Australia.

“A cursory exploration of this data suggests Islamic State’s systematic use of children is more widespread than previously imagined,” the authors write.

They also say the use of children in this way has never been a secret, but also that the usefulness of this tactic strays beyond “short-term propaganda benefits.” Because only with IS do you see children being used not as a last resort – to replenish ranks – or in special operations, but as standard practice. Their age is “almost an incidental fact.”

“The data suggests that Islamic State is not recruiting them to replace lost manpower… and they are not engaging in roles in which they have a comparative advantage over the adults. On the contrary, in most cases, children and youth are dying in the same circumstances as adults. Additionally, existing research argues that children and youth will be used more to attack civilian targets among whom they can blend in better.”

The only thing that brings the issue of them being children back into focus is the brazen propaganda IS engages in. Unlike other conflict zones where child soldiers were used, this group makes no attempt to hide the fact.

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According to further IS documents obtained by the Guardian, IS harbors plans to expand their child-indoctrination campaign through special training camps for ‘caliphate cubs.’

The researchers caution that as this campaign of child brainwashing continues to intensify, forces opposed to the terrorists will need to set up new programs of rehabilitation and reintegration. This especially concerns those who escaped the group’s clutches and find themselves in the status of former child soldier.

As Islamic State increasingly seeks to bring the war to its enemies’ doorsteps, it’s worth remembering those places with large Muslim populations, especially countries fighting IS in Syria right now.