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Sarah Khalil

Cubs of the Caliphate: Islamic State's regiment of child-bombers

Footage of the boy apprehended by police in Kirkuk was aired on Kurdistan 24

Date of publication: 23 August, 2016

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In-depth: Amid major losses in the battlefield, Islamic State turns to its "cubs of the caliphate" brigades to fill the gap of fallen militants and help preserve its remaining force.
A 15-year old boy was spotted wandering nervously around a street in the northern city of Kirkuk on Sunday. He panicked as police officers approached. But when they ripped open his shirt it was their turn to panic as they found a two-kilogram bomb strapped carefully around his thin waist.

Footage aired that evening by a local TV station showed the two officers carefully prying off a belt of explosives from the boy's body. The teenager was then quickly rushed into a police truck and driven away.

But while one tragedy was averted that evening, elsewhere in the city another struck.

In a different district of Kirkuk, a Shia mosque was hit by a suicide bombing. The attack was believed to be linked to the Islamic State [IS] group and the perpetrator was again said to have been a young boy.

On Saturday evening, in the city of Gaziantep in Turkey a wedding party was brought to a shuddering halt. A suicide bomber detonated himself and killed 51 people were killed, nearly half of which were children. It was believed that the attack was also carried out by a child.

In March earlier this year, a 15-year old walked towards a football match played by boys of his own age. He detonated himself, and most of the 41 killed were fellow teenagers.

The use of children and young-teenagers as suicide-bombers and fighters by IS militants has seen a dramatic upturn over recent months.

With reports from the Pentagon estimating that the US-led air campaign against IS in Syria and Iraq has killed 45,000 militants, officials believe the militant group has turned to its "cubs of the caliphate" brigades to fill the gap.

Including both boys and girls, many of the children used by IS group are believed to have been first kidnapped and then enslaved

Including both boys and girls, many of the children used by IS group are believed to have been first kidnapped and then enslaved.

Earlier this year, a UN report  showed that IS has held as many as 3,500 women and children as slaves.

Accounts repeatedly tell of IS militants snatching young boys from their families to indoctrinate them before sending them off to the front-lines.

While IS militants are at the forefront of using child bombers, the use of child-soldiers is increasing across the Middle East and elsewhere. Besides IS, a number of groups are accused of using underage children in the myriad of wars afflicting the reigon.

"Child recruitment across the region is increasing," Juliette Touma, a UNICEF regional spokesperson, told The New Arab.

[Click to enlarge]

"The number of verified cases on child recruitment has more than doubled in the last year," Touma said, "In 2015, the United Nations was able to verify 1,168 cases of children recruited in Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Sudan."

Initially, children recruited by different armed factions were given "supporting" roles. But as different groups incurred losses, particularly in the case of IS, children were thrust into the firing-line.

"The pattern and the type of roles that children recruited into the different conflicts are taking up is also changing," Touma told The New Arab.

"In previous years, children used to have support roles like porters, cooks, guards and support to paramedics," Touma said.

"As conflict intensifies, children are taking a much more active role, including carrying weapons, receiving training on the use of heavy weapons, manning checkpoints on the front lines, being used as snipers and in extreme cases, being used as suicide bombers."

The militant group has activated their children recruits in reaction to battlefield losses

Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi government adviser on IS, believes that the militant group has activated their children recruits in reaction to battlefield losses.

Further, youngsters are more prone to the indoctrination that lets them detonate themselves among busy crowds.

"Teenagers are easier to recruit for suicide missions, especially in moments of suffering or despair having lost loved ones," Hashimi told Reuters.

For IS-militants in Iraq and Syria, the use of child bombers has a further particularly distinct role.

With a long-established policy of a strike at "soft" targets away from the battlefields, IS militants had long realised children where a prime method to bypass security checks by Iraqi government forces.

"They also attract less attention and less suspicion than male adults" Hashimi told Reuters.

As dozens of families in Gaziantep and Kirkuk mourn the loss of their loved ones, the 15-year failed bomber on Saturday faces an unknown future. What is clear is as the policy of child-recruits and child-bombers sees a continued surge, a host of children across the region will soon have their futures brutally cut short.

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