Islamic State Recruiting Young Teens
A new study found that radical jihadists are now recruiting 15-to-17-year-olds to travel to and fight in Syria. The June study from the intelligence organization Soufan Group found that this younger recruiting is a departure from the typical age range for recruits, which is 18-to-29.
The young recruits are primarily from urban populations. Most are men who have “no significant record of criminal or other antisocial behavior,” according to the study. In a number of cases, the recruits are newly converted to Islam.
The study found that many of these young people express their motivation to fight for the Islamic State “as a religious obligation to protect fellow Muslims from attack.” That ideal only intensified when the Islamic State declared itself a caliphate in June.
The recruitment process doesn’t end with older teenagers or young adults either. Children in some Iraqi and Syrian cities are being forced to attend “training camps.” One family fled its hometown of Raqqa after the son was forced to attend an Islamic State sponsored camp. The boy returned home with a blonde-haired doll, meant to depict a Westerner, and a knife. His homework assignment was to practice beheading the doll.
In mid-September, the Jerusalem Post ran an article titled “Syrian Child Sniper Discusses Killing Soldiers.” The article sites a Lebanese television report about 12-year-old sniper Midyan Abu Al-Qa’qa. Midyan joined the fight after his father was killed in battle. “I get up in the morning and try to shoot some soldiers. Sometimes I manage to shoot one or two, and sometimes I don’t. There’s nothing to it. I feel fine,” Midyan said. The Lebanese report quoted a veteran rebel soldier who said, “[C]hildren make the best soldiers. When you give them orders, they obey. They never doubt anything.”
“We will continue the revolution until we win or become martyrs,” said the 12-year-old sniper.
“Other extremist groups refused to accept the inexperienced men from the West, most of whom were unable to speak Arabic,” Spiegel Online reported. However, the self-declared Islamic State is different from any other terrorist organization in recent history, as it accepts nearly anyone willing to join. Young people who decide to fight are finding that life inside the Islamic State isn’t as glorious as the propaganda portrays. In reality, they may be used as “cannon fodder, suicide bombers or, should it become necessary, hostages for ransom money,” Spiegel continued.
So what happens when the young and budding “jihadi” discovers that life as a terrorist isn’t all he thought it would be? Like a scared child, he simply wants to come home. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as hopping on a plane and forgetting the whole thing ever happened.
Kreshnik is a German citizen, a Muslim, and at age 17 he played for a local football club. Within just a couple years, Kreshnik decided it was time he stood up for Allah. He managed his way into Syria to fight for the Islamic State. During his journey, Kreshnik wrote to his sister, “I really don’t care which group I end up fighting for …. The most important thing is that I fight for sharia and that I can do many deeds to serve God.” Statements like this reveal the level of willingness many of these young fighters have. Islamic State leaders couldn’t ask for better recruits: ignorant, foreign, unquestioning.
After going through training and performing regular duties, Kreshnik was asked to go on a special mission. “I need four people to go in who won’t come out alive,” his group leader requested. Unfortunately for the Islamic State, Kreshnik wasn’t the ideal recruit—he wasn’t willing to lay his life on the line. Frightened by the assignment, Kreshnik fled. In December 2013, he arrived in Frankfurt, where he was arrested and now awaits trial.
Stories like Kreshnik’s are becoming more frequent and spawning a serious dilemma for many Western nations: How to handle returning fighters?
Britain’s problem is worse. According to the Daily Mail, there are more than 500 British citizens who traveled to Syria to fight in the last three years. In early September, a group of fighters “contacted authorities in Britain saying they have had enough of the war zone and want to return home,” reported the Daily Mail.
Included in its report is a quote from Prof. Greg Barton of the Global Terrorism Research Center at Monash University. “We’re dealing with young men doing foolish things, driven by peer pressure and a desire for affirmation. … I think it’s generally true from (their) social media posts that what we see reflects a fairly juvenile mentality,” he said.
Dealing with the returning militants is creating a headache for Western nations. If you are an official in Germany or Britain, what do you do if young men from your country made the “juvenile” mistake of joining an international terrorist organization? Should they be allowed back in, given shorter prison sentences and undergo de-radicalization programs? How would you ensure they aren’t playing the system? These are the types of questions officials have to deal with.
The European Union counterterrorism chief revealed that since the Islamic State declared itself a caliphate in June, there has been a rise in European jihadists from 2,000 to 3,000. That means roughly one tenth of Islamic State militants are citizens of Western nations. What happens if some of them want to come home? What if they try to sneak back into their home country undetected? These are realistic scenarios that should raise a high level of concern.
To learn more about the serious nature of this issue, watch Stephen Flurry’s Trumpet Daily program “Britain, a Beheading and the Other Immigration Crisis.”