Thursday, 17 December 2015


Ahmed Aslef was just 10 years old when he was lined up with hundreds of other Yazidi children outside the Iraqi village of Kocho in front of the heavily armed jihadi fighters of Islamic State (Isis). The IS (Daesh) militants ordered the children to raise their arms and then killed those with armpit hair.

Ahmed's two young sisters were sold as slaves along with other family members in the cities of Mosul and Raqqa as IS spread across northern Iraq at the end of 2014. Since the Kocho massacre, survivors have claimed as many as 800 people were killed with boys as young as 12 among the dead. Ahmed was spared but was recruited into the IS youth wing that has become known as the Caliphate cubs.

A year on and Ahmed, now 11, is living in a safe house in Stuttgart, Germany, along with around 70 Yazidi women and children. He travelled to Germany as part of a refugee project run specifically for women and children who have escaped from IS. His mother has remained in Iraq to await news of his father and older brothers who remain missing and could still be held by IS, but are more likely among the many hundreds of dead whose remains have yet to be identified.

"With Daesh, I didn't go to school with girls. I didn't learn maths. I went to a place with lots of other children. We learned how to use weapons. We were around 60 or 70 boys – no girls were allowed," he told IBTimes UK in an exclusive interview.

"I was a very good boy. We learned to take weapons apart and put them back together again, and how to load them. We learned how to throw grenades very far away. And we ran a lot for a long time."

Ahmed was kept in captivity with his family for nine months in various locations inside Iraq and Syria, as the family were sold multiple times. While in captivity, he said his family were confined to a single room and allowed to leave only to go to the toilet.

He said his friends at the cub camps were from many different countries, including Morocco, Afghanistan, Algeria, Tunisia, Jordan and Germany. "We were all together every day and we all wore a special uniform like the older men," he said.

IS has taken control of most of the schools within its territory and has changed the curriculum. Experts say that in terms of the way terrorist groups use children and the techniques of indoctrination, the methods of IS have been unprecedented in their scale.

"I have been studying non-state terrorism for 20 years and I have never seen such a system towards indoctrination that I have seen with Isis," said John Horgan, at the Georgia State University Global Studies Institute.

Ahmed said the first task of the young cubs was the recitation and memorisation of the Quran, followed by physical training and light weapons training, and then by specialist training. He proudly recalled how he knew how to a fire a rifle and spoke fondly of his fellow pupils.

His main teacher, he said, was "an old man and very cross all the time" and he described witnessing a number of deaths. It appears the most extreme violence he was forced to witness was in Tal Afar, in Iraq, where he spent some time in captivity.

"One man, from Tal Afar, he was a very bad man. I was in Tal Afar, and there were lots of boys from my village Kocho, but also other boys and we were altogether. There were many Shiite men there, as well as Turkmen and Daesh killed all the men in Tal Afar," he said.

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