Check out this happy playground picture: that smiling boy in the foreground, the other ones playing on a balance-beam behind.
Of course, it is not that at all. This picture was taken in Raqqa, the Syrian desert town now functioning as headquarters for the outlaw organization known as the Islamic State. The Danish there reads “IS steps up recruiting of children in Syria,” and what we see here is no less than military training, which for the young lad up front in particular involves crawling through that child-sized tunnel whose circular exit we see there.
The recruitment and use of child-soldiers in Syria is a growing problem, actually not isolated to IS but to almost all warring parties there, including groups such as the Free Syrian Army supported by the West. (I write “almost” because it’s possible that the forces of the Syrian government do not have to resort to recruiting children; they merely have a well-documented record of torturing and executing them.) But the IS forces take this beyond what has seen before, according to a child-protection advisor to UNICEF, Laurent Chapuis, who was interviewed for this Politiken article. Says Chapuis:
ISIS’ recruiting of children is possibly the clearest current example of of a new pattern of aggressive recruitment through ISIS’ use of social media. Social media are used to promote the group’s ideology, agenda and political vision, including the mobilization and use of children.
One obvious question, though: how do we really know about what the IS is allegedly doing with children at its own Syrian headquarters? After all, the deadly conditions for Western reporters wherever this Islamic group holds sway has been lamented for the “blindness” it results in, which both Western governments and publics have to deal with when trying to figure out what is really going on there.
It turns out, however, that there do exist certain information sources. That picture at the head of the Politiken article, and in the tweet, itself comes from a recently-formed group called “Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently” consisting of daring local residents there who gather photos and other information and then get that out to the wider world (yes, mainly via social media). This organization is headed by a certain Abu Ibrahim Raqqawi; here is his Twitter-feed (click on the image to go there):
Lea Wind-Friis, the Politiken reporter who wrote the article, mentions trying to contact Mr. Raqqawi to gain information for it but failing, which is understandable. However, a writer for the respected American journal Foreign Policy did manage to speak with him earlier on, and his accounts of what is going on there form a substantial part of her article entitled Children of the Caliphate – in English, free, and published only last week, which recounts IS child recruitment and mobilization in detail – including teaching very young boys to behead people and to operate as suicide-bombers.