Following its takeover of Raqqa, and the ensuing closure of schools and universities, the Islamic State has managed to enroll a large number of the city’s children in its boot camps, through a strategy that employs the carrot and stick approach. Using widespread starvation and poverty in the capital of its so-called Caliphate to its favor, the Al-Qaida breakaway group lures kids to join its combat troops, some of them join their programs willingly, while others get kidnapped from the streets. In some cases, parents enroll their children in the camps in return for a sum of money they receive from the Islamic State.
Since 07/10/2014, over 30 children and 45 young men from Raqqa have been killed in the Islamic State’s battles that are raging on several fronts, among them is Bassel Hmeria, an 18-year old man from al-Mashlab neighborhood, who carried out a suicide attack that targeted Kurdish fighters in the northern flashpoint city of Kobane. Every now and then, the Islamic State informs the families of their children’s death without handing over their bodies.
Al-Tabqa’s under 16 boot camp, located in Raqqa’s western countryside, is responsible for sending out batches of 250 to 350 children who underwent training that includes firing weapons and grenades, in addition to instructions about making car bombs and becoming suicide bombers. With no educational system left in the city, children turn to mosques where they’re brainwashed by the Islamic State’s clergymen who indoctrinate them to take part in the holy Jihad and fight the “infidels and Allah’s enemies”. The Islamic State also recruits children to work as informers who spy on activists and anyone who dares to criticize the group.
The children get driven to the Sharia military camp, where two types of training programs are offered: the slow training program and the speedy training program.
The slow training: the program is enforced during periods in which IS is not involved in major battles.
After the children had been taken from either the mosques or their parents, they enter the a 45 day-long boot camp. While the children are there, they undergo a brainwashing process, and the fundamentalist ideology education begins. Afterwards, the children are sent to a 3 moths-long camp, where they receive intensive weapon training (in which the use of bombs is included.)
Subsequently, the children get segregated into different groups decided by their mentors, including: the suicide bombers group, the explosive-manufacturing group and the soldiers group. After the child has concluded the training, he is considered ready to join the fight and gets immediately transferred to the battlefront.
The flash training:
An intensive training program held during times in which IS is engaging in a large-scale battle, such as the Ain Al-Arab (Kobane) battle, where new fighters are always required. The children enter a 20 day-long Sharia camp, following which they join a month-long boot camp at the end of which they get pushed immediately into battle.
The majority of the children were killed after having been subject to the speed training program, due to the fact that they have little fighting experience and that the short training period does not allow them the sufficient knowledge in real battles.
Some of the children are also required to deliver food and medicine, fill the weapon depots, equip bombs and assemble explosive devices.
It is worth mentioning that the Islamic State has executed more than 420 regime soldiers in several quarters across the city of Al-Raqqa back on 28/8/2014. The executed soldiers were captured at the 17th Syrian Army division base, the 93rd brigade base and the Al-Tabqa military airbase. IS took advantage of the fact that a new batch of fresh cubs were about to graduate a military camp, and ordered a number of them, from the city of Al-Ikershi east of Al-Raqqa, to perform the beheadings. Whoever failed to complete the beheading does not get to graduate, however, all the executions were successfully performed and more than 100 regime soldiers were killed that day.
The Islamic State seized control over the entirety of the city of Al-Raqqa on 12/01/2014.