Sanliurfa (Turkey), Jul 19: The children each received a doll and a sword. Then they were lined up, more than 120 of them, and given their next lesson by their Islamic State group instructors: Behead the doll. A 14-year-old who was among the line of abducted boys from Iraq's Yazidi religious minority said at first he couldn't cut it right, he chopped once, twice, three times.
"Then they taught me how to hold the sword, and they told me how to hit. They told me it was the head of the infidels," the boy, renamed Yahya by his Islamic State captors, recalled in an interview last week with The Associated Press in northern Iraq, where he fled after escaping the IS training camp.
When Islamic State extremists overran Yazidi towns and villages in northern Iraq last year, they butchered older men. Many of the women and girls they captured were given to IS loyalists as sex slaves.
But dozens of young Yazidi boys like Yahya had a different fate: The group sought to re-educate them. They forced them to convert to Islam from their ancient faith and then tried to turn them into jihadi extremist fighters. It is part of a concerted effort by the extremists to build a new generation of militants, according to a series of AP interviews with residents who fled or still live under IS in Syria and Iraq.
The group is recruiting teens and children, using cash, gifts, intimidation and brainwashing. As a result, children have been plunged into the group's atrocities. Young boys have been turned into killers, shooting captives in the head in videos issued by the group.
Last week, for the first time, a video showed a child involved in a beheading: a boy who appeared younger than 13 decapitating a Syrian army captain. Kids also have been used as suicide bombers. In schools and mosques, the militants infuse children with their extremist doctrine, often turning them against their own parents.
Fighters in the street befriend children with toys. IS training camps for children churn out the Ashbal, Arabic for "lion cubs," young fighters for the "caliphate" that IS has declared across the regions its controls. A caliphate is a historic form of Islamic rule that the group claims to be reviving, though the vast majority of Muslims reject its claim.
"They are planting extremism and terrorism in young people's minds," said Abu Hafs Naqshabandi, a Syrian sheikh in the Turkish city of Sanliurfa, where he runs religion classes for refugees to counter IS ideology. "I am terribly worried about future generations."