The Islamic State (ISIS) is training children as young as 13-years-old to carry its weapons, become a weapon, and kill and torture those who oppose them, German intelligence warns. Recruiting for its military forces and its overall caliphate cause is replete with stories of methods as diverse as direct proselytizing to the use of social media to promote the ISIS brand and lure impressionable Islamists from around the world into the extremist group’s ranks. But the recruitment of young people, from teens down to pre-adolescents, is of major concern — because when a child at an early developmental stage is indoctrinated, the psychological controls can become so ingrained as to be hard-wired for life.
NBC News reported May 17 that according to German intelligence, teens are becoming “weapons” in the hands of ISIS recruiters. Hans-Georg Maassen, head of Germany’s Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), its domestic intelligence unit, says that kids as young as 13 have been identified as radicalized and are willing to carry out missions — “stage attacks” — for ISIS. Those recruited include not just children of refugees from Syria and Iraq but Muslim citizens of Germany itself.
“When you know how ISIS treats children… then you have to assume that you are dealing with people who are willing to unconditionally torture and kill for ISIS.”
As evidence, it was noted that a 15-year-old Muslim girl, an indoctrinate via ISIS internet entreaties, had attacked a German policeman in Hanover in February. She went after the officer with a knife.
Maassen believes laws concerning children, radicalized teens, and terrorism will have to change out of necessity throughout Europe, and he’s calling for an expansion of surveillance laws in Germany to aid in the fight against the growing problem. At present, it is unlawful to surveil anyone under the age of 16 and children and teens under the age of 14 are held unaccountable for their actions. He also wants tighter surveillance laws for those convicted Islamists that have served their time and wants to introduce the electronic tagging of criminals.
He notes that the Paris and Brussels attacks were a “wake-up call.” Pointing out that radicalized extremists have evolved in the way they carry out their missions, he warns that “Europe cannot think like it did in the 1980s and 90s” when it comes to counter-terrorism measures. Things have changed and broader surveillance measures would potentially aid in thwarting future terrorist acts.
Stephan Kramer, of Thuringia’s intelligence service, is supportive of anti-terror law expansion, telling Mitteldeutsche Zeitung, that Germany has “a massive problem.” He added that “minors are not only radicalized, they are also used as weapons.”
To indicate just how much of a problem Germany is facing, Maassen’s intelligence unit, the BfV, has identified 8,600 radicalized Muslims within Germany. Additionally, there are 450 violent extremists that have also been identified. These, in addition to the child soldiers ready to fight for ISIS, 40 of which have been identified. Half are female and have traveled to combat areas.
Maassen told NBC News that an estimated 810 German jihadis have joined ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Of those, about 260 now-trained extremist militants have made their way back to Germany, presenting the country with “a security challenge.”
And Germany isn’t alone in seeing its Muslim children radicalized and heading toward the battle-torn Middle East to fight for ISIS. Dutch intelligence chief Rob Bertholee told a conference in Berlin earlier this month that 70 minors from the Netherlands had been identified as having been recruited for military training by the Islamic State and had gone to Syria and Iraq. He added that ISIS was recruiting children as young as 9-years-old.
The recruitment of child soldiers has been going on for some time. A report by NBC News in November 2014 revealed a purposeful move by ISIS to gather children to their cause.
An Iraqi security official wishing to remain anonymous told NBC News the following.
“They teach them how to use AK-47s. They use dolls to teach them how to behead people, then they make them watch a beheading, and sometimes they force them to carry the heads in order to cast the fear away from their hearts.”
Indoctrinating the children and adolescents in the radicalized Wahabbist version of Sunni Islam, according to analysts and experts, is a strategic move by ISIS, the report noted. After training, many are used as human shields and suicide bombers as well as fighters. Besides adding more soldiers on the field of battle, early indoctrination ensures the extremist group’s “longevity by providing a ready-and-willing next generation of jihadis.”
While Europe deals with what appears to be an upsurge in the number of radicalized immigrants and Muslim citizens inside its member states’ borders, it was reported by Pentagon officials this week that five percent of ISIS-held territory in Iraq had been retaken by coalition forces since December. According to Fox News, estimates show that ISIS still holds roughly the same amount of territory it held in Syria six months ago. This, despite the “acceleration” of military activity promised by the Obama administration.
It is believed, though, that ISIS’ total military strength is waning in the Middle East, while it seems to be growing stronger in Libya. U. S. intelligence officials said in February, according to CNN, that while the number of ISIS fighters in Syria and Iraq seems to have fallen to an estimated 19,000 to 25,000 (down from a prior estimate of 20,000 to 31,500), the number of militants now in Libya is estimated at 6,500, double the previous number thought to be in the north African country.
At the time, intelligence officials said that it believed that as many as 250 Americans had traveled to Syria and Iraq to either support ISIS or join its cause.
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