Trained to carry weapons, and taught to kill. In graphic detail, ISIS boys share their experiences under the militants’ rule. Today, they embark on a new path to recovery, detaching themselves from the extremists’ gruesome practices towards women and “people who enjoy freedom.”
Al Arabiya exclusively interviewed four boys who were living under ISIS and representative of a center who aims to rehabilitate them. The children revealed details about the reality of life under the extremist group and how they came to join them as well as highlighting their military training procedures and the ideology that sustained the ISIS grip on power.
16-year-old Mohammed recalls how he entered Syria. “We first took a plane from Indonesia to Bangkok, the capital of Thailand. Then we went to Istanbul, Turkey. Then we went to Gaziantep to enter Syria, through the Jarabulus route.”
He says life under ISIS was hard and he was constantly scared, “there were airstrikes almost every day. We used to be so scared before we sleep.”
Another boy, Faisal, who was a resident of Deir el-Zor, says his family joined the extremist group because “ISIS came to Syria, and they controlled our area… we wanted to know who they are.” Faisal and his family joined the group and took up military training and Sharia classes.
“We learned Quran, and they taught us some military things,” he says, adding that he was taught to “kill the people who enjoy freedom.”
When Al Arabiya’s Rola al-Khatib asks how he would have reacted to her presence while he was a part of the extremist group, Faisal responds: “According to what they [ISIS] taught me, you should die.”
He admits his beliefs have changed since leaving the group. “Now I feel like you should be completely free, and live your life.”
The punishment was harsh under ISIS’s rule. Obaida, who used to live in ISIS-controlled Hajin, says he was accused of stealing weapons by the extremist group. “In front of everyone, they chopped my hand off,” he said.
“After my hand was cut off they started making fun of me, laughing at me,” he recalls. According to what Obaidah was taught, the extremist group said those who don’t pray and fast are heathens and “if a woman doesn’t wear the hijab, they [ISIS] would flog her.”
For his part, 15-year-old Mustafa, the son of a former high-ranking Emir, says his father was an official in charge of beheadings under the group’s rule. “I was just in the battalion… and then my father came and I started working with the men who cut the heads,” he says, adding that he would help in removing the decapitated heads.
The Hori Center aims to rehabilitate former ISIS kids like the ones interviewed. The representative at the center says their goal is to protect and educate the children, but it has been challenging,
“They do not accept the teachers and supervisors, especially the women because their behavior is still based on the ideology that ISIS has ingrained in them,” Jilan Heme from the Hori Center says.
Many of the kids who come are illiterate. “We start with training to improve their literacy in Arabic so they can learn how to read and write,” she explains, “then we teach them the cultural and behavioral aspects of the curriculum.”