Yazidi children are ISIS’s ticking time bomb

Yazidi children are ISIS’s ticking time bomb
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As soon as you approach the administrative border of the Sinjar Mountains in Iraq, you can see the city of Snuny below, enveloped in sadness and pain. The tragedies of the people there are burned into the memory of every Yazidi who tells the stories of the forty-four massacres that have been committed against them over the centuries. However, the horrors of the massacre committed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on August 3, 2014, in which hundreds of Yazidis were killed and thousands of women and children were captured, was the bloodiest that has occurred in the area.

Hasan Sinjari, the uncle of two children kidnapped by ISIS and a fighter in the Shingal Protection Unit (YBS), pointed down the mountain saying, “In this area, ISIS fighters surrounded 16 Yazidi girls who threw themselves into the valley to escape. They preferred death to being captured by them.”

According to statistics on the official website of the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs as well as Khairi Bozani, the head of the Yazidi Affairs Office in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), 5,383 people have been abducted by ISIS.

Hasan Sinjari told Suwar Magazine that ISIS killed his brother and abducted two of his children, Maher and Renas, aged between 4 and 6 years-old. They had been taken from the village of Kojo south of the city of Shingal. Their mother has chosen to stay with her daughter in al-Jabal the internally displaced persons (IDP) camp hoping to eventually be reunited with her sons. A small number of children are being slowly released in Mosul, ISIS’s stronghold city in Iraq and in the city of al-Raqqa, in Syria. Five children were freed by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the city of al- Raqqa and arrived at Mount Shingal 10 days ago.

Ali Beer, a Yazidi activist and journalist, was one of the first to speak to the five children before handing them over to their families in the IDP camp in Dohuk, in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. He shared dozens of photographs depicting the tragedies perpetrated by ISIS against the kidnapped children to Suwar Magazine. According to the testimony from the eldest of the five children, who participated in several battles against the People's Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria, the children were trained to use different types of weapons; carry out suicide attacks and to read the Qur'an. Quoting one of the children Ali added, “Each of us had his explosive belt, and they taught us how to carry out suicide attacks against infidels with the promise of a 'harem of virgins' in paradise.”


Suicide belt


The Yazidi community is increasingly concerned about the success of ISIS in manipulating and brainwashing their children with their ruthless ideology. Ali says that one of the five survivors spoke of hundreds of Yazidi children in ISIS camps who have been recruited to participate in battles and terrorist acts. According to one of the children he spoke with, many refused to return to their families because they perceive them as infidels while others are actively fighting with ISIS against their families.

The Yazidi researcher and historian Salim al-Rashidani, who has documented dozens of mass graves of people killed by ISIS since the beginning of the Shingal disaster and collected stories from ISIS survivors in IDP camps in Dohuk, has warned about the seriousness of the disaster facing the Yazidi community. Yazidi children, both boys and girls, have been taught to make and use improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and have been manipulated and incited against their community. Al-Rashidani also stressed that the behavior of the freed children is abnormal and alien to the Yazidi community, and even to their Muslim peers with their zealous prayer practices, as evident in Bajid Kandala IDP camp in Kurdistan. He added that, “Despite their young age, they have mastered brutal combat methods, such as slaughtering, beatings, whipping and burning, which are committed by ISIS against its victims”. Al-Rashidani pointed out that these children have adopted extremist views of their own parents that are very similar to the hateful narrative perpetrated by ISIS towards other religions.

According to the Yazidi researcher, the reason that ISIS agrees to release abducted children is that they have succeeded in manipulating and preparing them to become ticking time bombs that could explode within their communities at any time in the future. Al- Rashidani also indicated that ISIS has invented methods of torture against Yazidis who fell under its grip and did not show obedience. In addition, they isolated infants and children as young as two years old from their mothers, who have been deprived of food and drink for a long time.


ISIS trained 800 Yazidi children in beheading

ISIS has recently released a video which purports to show young Yazidi fighters training in a camp. It features two young brothers who carried out two suicide attacks against Iraqi forces in Mosul. According to the video, one of them, Amjad Abu Yusuf al-Sanjari, said in Kurdish “They were worshiping Satan. They were living in ignorance.’

According to the video, the children had received religious education and joined an ISIS camp in Syria before being included on a list of the group’s suicide bombers. The two brothers also expressed their readiness to carry out a suicide attack against "the enemies of God”, even if these included their own parents. The second brother, Asaad Abu al-Khattab said, “God willing, me and my brother will carry out a Martyrdom Operation against the enemies of God.”

Footage taken from the air later showed the two brothers carrying out a suicide attack against Iraqi forces on the western side of the city of Mosul, which had been seized by Iraqi forces.

Hussein Koro, the head of the Yazidi Rescue Center in the city of Duhok, revealed that 800 Yazidi children aged between 5-18 years are being held in three ISIS camps in the cities of Baaj, Mousel and Raqqa, where they have been trained on execution techniques such as beheading and suicide attacks, as well as combat.

Koro pointed out that this information was obtained from children who had been freed from ISIS. He added, “We were contacted by their mothers and we managed to free the children with the help of some Arab tribes or by paying ransom money through mediators. Through the investigation we conducted, we were able to obtain this serious information.”

Human trafficking of children: ISIS sells children for $8,000

Selling abducted Yazidi children for money has become a thriving industry for ISIS. The number of Yazidis worldwide is roughly two and a half million of whom 350,000 are in Iraq. ISIS is selling the kidnapped civilians to strengthen its economy after its oil production was reduced due to the dual military campaigns of Nineveh, We Are Coming and Wrath of the Euphrates, in the cities of Mosul and Raqqa. These two military campaigns, which are supported by the US-led coalition air forces, led to a drastic retreat of ISIS forces in the two countries and prompted dozens of its fighters to sell abducted Yazidi women and children to secure their escape, sometimes to Europe to seek asylum or to move to safer areas.   

Abu Shuja Dunayi, who has taken part in operations to free abducted civilians described the process of purchasing children as very dangerous. According to him, the purchase process usually takes place after the fighter escapes from ISIS territories and in the location that he is staying in at the time. Up to $8,000 can be paid to free one child.

Dunayi indicated that such operations may fail. He said, “We never trust ISIS fighters, as it is possible that they will receive the money without handing over the abducted child or women or he might kill them.” He also added, “We have been betrayed many times, and we have lost many lives in the al-Tahrir Network we run to free kidnapped civilians."

Most of the operations to free abducted civilians are carried out between SDF and Iraqi security forces in Mosul and Raqqa. Smugglers are contracted to coordinate with ISIS fighters to secure the release of abducted children, and to deliver them safely to their families.

Shokor Shankali, the Yazidi Council official in the city of Shingal who supervised operations to free many abducted civilians, confirmed that Yazidis pay huge amounts of money, often beyond their capacity, to free their abducted women and children. He pointed out that the price to free a woman with her child can be as much as $12,000. He also said, “No one has been released without money being paid in return. The exception to this is when 53 children were freed last year during an exchange with ‘Aziza’, a woman from the city of Aleppo in Syria, who is affiliated with ISIS. Aziza is the wife of one the ‘princes’ of ISIS and had been arrested by YBS in Shingal last year.”


Out of 3,166 Yazidi children, 1,200 were released


International Humanitarian Law grants children special protection in times of armed conflict. Recognizing the vulnerabilities of children during wartime, the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and its Protocols I and II include at least 25 articles referring to children. However, as stated by Ali al-Khayat, an official of the non-governmental organization “Yazda" that deals with the Yazidis affected by the disaster of Shingal, these laws did not protect the captive and freed Yazidi children. An estimated 1,200 children have been freed out of 3,166, captured by ISIS.

Al-Khayyat spoke to Suwar Magazine about the organizations and centers providing medical, social, and psychological services to rehabilitate Yazidi children with mental health problems. He noted, however, that their efforts did not meet the needs of children. The Yazidi activist referred to Yazda’s special rehabilitation and integration programs for children, but the lack of financial and material resources prevents the organization from covering all cases. He added, “Children are participating in two sessions per week within Yazda's Psychosocial Treatment and Trauma Support Center, and they participate in artistic, educational and social activities, some of which are for entertainment.”


 A healthy life comes from a healthy childhood


Children are the most affected during times of armed conflict even though they are also the most adaptable. Mohamed Ali Osman, a mental health and human development specialist, notes that because of their vulnerability, war is a catastrophic and complex form of social and psychological activity for children. Psychological care is one of the most important factors that a child lacks during wartime. The symptoms of psychological trauma can extend for many years after the disaster.

Osman goes on to say that terrorist groups are fully aware of what affects the personality of a child, and they begin by destroying his or her mental health until the child can be easily manipulated to their cause and principles.

The psychologist advises that these children must be provided with psychosocial support so that they can try to live a normal life again. In order for a child to be able to integrate into the normal life that he or she had before the war, it is necessary to design psychological treatment plans to rehabilitate the freed children, especially after they return to their families.

Abu Shuja Dunayi freed over 300 children from the grip of ISIS just two months after he entered the city of Shingal. He also supervised the operation carried out to free the five children. He noted that the impact of the abduction is lower in younger children, and that the effects could be overcome easily by integrating them with their families and their peers. However, the problem increases with those children who are older. This is particularly challenging in the absence of rehabilitation institutes and human rights organizations working on the psychological, mental and physical health of children, or traumatized children living in displaced person in camps that lack normal life conditions.

The tragedy of the Yazidi families whose little loved ones were kidnapped did not end after their children were freed from ISIS. These children return to their families brainwashed, trained to kill, and filled with hate and radical beliefs. They have become ISIS’s ticking time bombs that could explode in the heart of the Yazidi community at any time in the near future. When that happens, the horror will exceed the scope of any atrocities committed against the communities, especially if the international community continues to remain silent and neglects its humanitarian responsibility in the catastrophic crisis plaguing the region.



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