By Naomi Grimley
09 March 2017
· Yazidi teenagers
held in a military training camp reveal how they were taught to kill
· German state of
Baden-Wurttemberg gives refuge to Yazidi women traumatised by rape
· Mother details
distress that IS send her videos via mobile phone of her kidnapped six-year-old
All names in this story have been
Lovant and Sabbah were just 16 and 14 when
they were forced to fire bullets into the dead bodies of men executed for being
traitors by so-called Islamic State.
This was target practice – just one part of
the daily rounds of weapons training they endured at a military camp for
The boys are Yazidis from northern Iraq. In
2014, the world watched in horror as tens of thousands of their people were
trapped on Mount Sinjar in the searing heat without food or water. At the same
time, the teenagers Lovant and Sabbah were being rounded up in their village by
Most of the adult males were taken away and
murdered, while the boys were moved with their mothers to a nearby city in northern
Iraq, before being separated from their families altogether.
For over a year, they were held against
their will and trained as “cubs of the caliphate” at a camp deep in a
mountainous region of Syria.
Forced To Fight
We learnt how to load and fire a weapon. We
were training to be soldiers and we would do exercises – crawling under barbed
wire – things like that. They taught us all about war.”
“They took us sometimes to big graves where
they had the dead bodies of Muslim traitors who were spies of the regime or who
took drugs,” says Sabbah. “Then they said that we have to fire on the bodies to
get used to it.”
No-one knows how many Yazidis may have been
forced to go to these camps, but a report by the counter-extremism organisation
the Quilliam Foundation says it could be hundreds of children and includes
captured boys as young as eight.
The teenagers say there were about 120 boys
in the military camp they were held in. Most were from Syria and most were
Muslims. Many of these recruits – unlike the Yazidi boys – would have been sent
there by their own families to become the next generation of jihadist fighters.
“I missed home a lot,” says Sabbah.
“Especially when we saw how the Arab boys went every weekend to their families
in Syria. We got very upset. In moments like this, we died 10 times.”
Their days were strictly regimented.
Mornings were spent with religious lessons to indoctrinate the boys. Lovant
I knew they had killed everyone who wasn’t
a Muslim. So I had to pretend to be a Muslim to survive.”
The boys were forced to pray, read the
Koran and learn IS textbooks by heart, so that they could be examined on them.
“They tried to brainwash me. Their books were just like magic. They quickly
changed your mind. I bet it’s not just me, even a man’s mind would have
changed,” says Sabbah.
Then came the physical training. “It was
summer and very hot,” He says. “The ground was very hot and they taught us to
walk on it, so we got used to it in war.”
He describes the culture of fear which
dominated the camp. The children were often made to keep watch around the
complex at night. When one of the boys in the camp fell asleep, his captors
threw cold water on him and beat him with wooden bats. Guns were to be worn on
the shoulder at all times – even on a visit to the toilet. If one of the “cubs”
forgot or if his gun slipped off, he would face more beatings.
There might be moments of normality – such
as swimming in the local river after lunch – but then they were sat down by
their captors and made to watch terrifying videos about war. “We didn’t dare
say no to them. We were so afraid,” recalls Sabbah.
Sabbah confesses that after a year in the
hands of the so-called Islamic State group he came worryingly close to
believing their radical ideology: “If I had stayed there just one more month, I
would have become one of them.”
Escape from IS
We can't reveal the exact method of the
boys' escape, but Lovant secretly managed to make contact with a third party
who, in turn, arranged a smuggler to pick them up from an agreed meeting point.
Lovant says that Sabbah was initially
reluctant to escape the camp but he managed to persuade him it was worth the
risk: “I knew it was dangerous, but there was nothing left to be afraid of.”
We had seen death with our own eyes. We saw
how they killed. When you lose family, when you lose everything you have
nothing left. We had nothing to lose.”
The boys were picked up in a car by the
smuggler and, after a few days lying low in the city of Raqqa, they made a
long, nail-biting journey to the border. Sabbah recalls the moment they left
Syrian soil and slipped back into Iraq: “We danced on the street in
celebration. I’m happy that my friend convinced me to run away and he is now like
a brother for me.”
Lovant and Sabbah’s account of being in a
training facility tallies with what has been gleaned from IS propaganda videos.
Recently, IS released a new shocking video
which appears to show two young Yazidi boys carrying out a suicide car bomb
attack on Iraqi forces in Mosul
One report asserts that these boys are only
aged 11 and 12, and were captured from the town of Sinjar in August 2014.
In the video, the boys talk about leaving
behind their old religion: “in Sinjar, we were worshipping Satan,” they say.
They are shown pledging allegiance to IS before getting into cars laden with
But why would so-called Islamic State
co-opt Yazidi boys? Possibly to simply to swell the ranks of jihadist fighters.
Professor Mia Bloom, from Georgia State University, thinks there is another
reason: “There is a benefit to using them in propaganda. It is intended to send
a message to the world from IS that even our former enemies are with us. So
it’s almost like you can redeem yourself, regardless of your ethnicity, by