Islamic State convinced 89 children and teenagers to blow themselves up in suicide attacks in 2015, according to a new report issued by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.
“A cursory exploration of this data suggests that the Islamic State’s systematic use of children is more widespread than previously imagined,” the authors of the report noted.
In fact, the real number, 89, is about double current estimates. About 51 percent died in Iraq, and 35 percent died in Syria. In 39 percent of cases, children blew themselves up instantly with improvised explosive devices, while 33 percent were killed as foot soldiers during combat operations.
The use of children has been brought into sharp relief by the video ISIS released in January, showing a child remotely detonating a car bomb, which killed three suspected spies.
What’s most worrying is the data indicates ISIS is rapidly expanding its use of child militants in suicide operations, even during the time frame between January 2015 and January 2016. At the beginning of January 2015, the monthly rate was only six, but by the time January 2016 rolled around, that monthly number had almost doubled to 11.
The report argues the increase in child suicide bombers may be because ISIS is facing mounting external pressure in the form of military operations, but as far as ISIS is concerned, that is not the main point of using children.
One of ISIS’s favorite past times is boasting about the young age of its suicide bombers, though unlike other terror groups, the main utility of the children is not to substitute for adults, but to serve for propaganda purposes.
“The data suggests that the Islamic State is not recruiting them to replace lost manpower— children and youth only constitute a small proportion of its battlefield losses overall—and they are not engaging in roles in which they have a comparative advantage over the adults,” the report states. “On the contrary, in most cases, children and youth are dying in the same circumstances as adults.”
“Instead of hailing them as young heroes, the Islamic State media team merely celebrates them as heroes. Indeed, the actual age of the martyr is never mentioned, even in passing,” the report adds.
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