Monday, August 08, 2016

ISIS - Syrian Child-Soldier's Escape

"One Syrian child soldier's desperate struggle to escape ISIS" PBS NewsHour 8/5/2016


SUMMARY:  Their faces are flooding the internet:  the thousands of child soldiers fighting in Syria.  Whether they join armed groups out of economic need or a sense of cultural obligation, these children become instruments of violence and propaganda, often witnessing--and executing--acts of sheer inhumanity.  For those able to escape, like 15-year-old Ibrahim, the trauma proves difficult to overcome.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  For centuries, children have been used as weapons of war.  Today's conflict in Syria is no exception.

ISIS has recruited and exploited children in Syria and Iraq, using them as soldiers, informants and even executioners.

NewsHour special correspondent Marcia Biggs brings us a profile of one former ISIS child solder, and his deep emotional scars.

And a warning:  This report contains material that may be disturbing to some viewers.

MARCIA BIGGS (NewsHour):  The images are all over the Internet, children growing up in the ranks of armed groups in the war in Syria.  This child in an ISIS propaganda video beheads a Syrian regime soldier.  These children execute captured soldiers in the ancient city of Palmyra.

According to a study published by Georgia State University, it's a phenomenon that's playing out on all sides of the conflict, with almost 1,000 children in the last three years showing up in online eulogies, calling kids martyrs, having died for the cause.

And those are only the ones whose videos made it to the Internet.

Riyad Al-Najem represents one of only a handful of small local organizations trying to combat this problem inside Syria, visiting families one by one.

RIYAD AL-NAJEM, Executive Manager, Hurras Network:  In some areas, the main reason of child recruitment is poverty.  Parents can't find food for their children, so they push them into armed groups to get money and food.  In other areas, it's about culture.  Parents consider that their children have become men, and they should carry weapons, that it's not acceptable for a child of his cousin holding a weapon and he's not.

MARCIA BIGGS:  In Idlib province, activists from the group Children Not Soldiers hang signs and spray-paint graffiti to create awareness.

The U.N. has a campaign of the same name, but has not yet been able to gain a foothold here.  Fighting recruitment of children is an uphill battle within a brutal war.  And no activists can work in highly radicalized areas, where a sinister form of manipulation is used as ammunition.

We met Ibrahim and his mother, Rania, in a hotel in Southern Turkey.  They were too afraid of ISIS sleeper cells to meet elsewhere.  We can't show you their faces.

Before the revolution, Ibrahim loved math and dreamed of being an aeronautical engineer.  His father was killed by a sniper in 2012, leaving his mother alone with three children.  Ibrahim was 13 years old when ISIS took his town of Deir el-Zour, and enlisted him and his friends.

IBRAHIM, Former ISIS Soldier (through translator):  They started to recite verses from the Koran, speeches from Mohammed.  They said they were the real Islamic State and would fulfill all the obligations of Islam.  They came to us and said, you will be martyrs and you will earn paradise and virgins.

MARCIA BIGGS:  He says he began as an informer, and then graduated to weapons training.

IBRAHIM (through translator):  They had me be a rat for the people who smoked, who didn't go to mosque.  They forced me to follow the women who didn't wear the right clothes and bring them in from the street.  Sometimes, they brought captive soldiers, and they told us, if you want to kill any of these prisoners, you are allowed to kill them.

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