Defecting commander: ISIS is saving its army of children to fight against the West
Thousands of children have been trained to kill on behalf of terrorist sect ISIS.
Children are being instructed in hundreds of training camps, where they are locked up for six months and brainwashed with propaganda.
This is what defecting ISIS Emir Abu Abboud al-Raqqawi from Raqqa reveals in a world-exclusive interview with Expressen's Kassem Hamadé.
"This is the army that ISIS is planning on using against the West," says al-Raqqawi.
He also reveals how ISIS suicide bombers are secretly being drugged.
A group of children dressed in combat gear stand, knife in hand, ready to cut their victims' throats. The victims are grown men, forced to their knees. They are murdered to the sound of children shouting:
"Allahu akbar! Allahu akbar!"
The internet is awash with these vile videos, posted by ISIS propaganda machines.
But for the first time since ISIS was founded in the summer of 2014, a senior Emir is now disclosing details about ISIS's army of child soldiers.
"They're called Ashbal al-Khilafa. Most of them have Syrian parents, but some of their parents are foreign members," says Abu Abboud al-Raqqawi.
In ISIS-controlled areas, they have closed down all the schools. Parents who live there have only two options for their sons. Quran studies in the mosque or Ashbal al-Khilafa.
"Normal Muslims who don't need to join ISIS attend the schools, where they learn all about Islam according to ISIS interpretation. Or they can choose the Ashbal al-Khilafa camps. It's voluntary," says al-Raqqawi.
Children attending the Quran studies are there for a few hours a day. It works just like the Quran schools during the Taliban period in Afghanistan and Pakistan. You do not have to live in the camp to take the courses.
But Ashbal al-Khilafa is a completely different story.
"In Raqqa alone, they set up 15 Ashbal al-Khilafa training camps. Camps like this are set up in every town, village and community under ISIS control. Every camp takes around 600-800 children. They stay there for six months – completely isolated from the outside world and from their parents. They're being groomed to become soldiers – not to join the fighting now, but as a reserve army," says al-Raqqawi.
Training consists of practical and theoretical elements. ISIS videos being circulated on Amaq, the sect's propaganda channel, show a small group of child soldiers searching a bombed-out building for their victims. The victims are people who have been kidnapped and then forced to hide in the building, only for the children to seek them out and then shoot them to death. It is part of the children's education.
"These children aren't being sent to war yet. A few are chosen to be suicide bombers, the rest they save for future wars with the Western world. They are more ruthless than the adult members. Several of them volunteer to join the fighting, but they aren't allowed," says al-Raqqawi.
The most dangerous ones are the children who are trained for secret missions.
The boys are aged between 9 to 14 years old, but ISIS makes exceptions for children younger than nine – if they look older. During their training, the children are split into different groups. There are those who become suicide candidates or normal fighting members.
"The most dangerous ones are the children who are trained for secret missions. They learn all about how the secret service works and how to blend in among different communities. They're the ones who will be sent out into the world as sleeper cells," says al-Raqqawi.
According to al-Raqqawi, all of the food that was distributed to the camps in Raqqa was prepared by four devout ISIS chefs. Two of the chefs were foreign and two were Syrian. Very few people were allowed into the kitchen where the food was prepared. One of al-Raqqawi's jobs was to visit the kitchen and draw up lists of what they needed.
That was where he discovered that the chefs were adding some kind of powder, stored in small bags, to the food and drinking water. Al-Raqqawi himself attended various training camps, where he had heard about powder being added to the food to make the new recruits more ruthless. This time he saw it with his own eyes.
"That's how they get the suicide bombers to volunteer during the training camps," says al-Raqqawi.
"You eat and attend the Sharia lessons, taught by Abu Mossaab al-Farancy. When Abu Mossaab tells you that your sisters are being held captive by unbelievers, and that it’s your duty to fight them, you feel motivated to go straight out to war. Or to become a combatant martyr."
Frenchman Abu Mossaab al-Farancy is fluent in Arabic and in charge of all of the training camps.
The married ones who are to be martyrs decide who their wife will marry when they die.
Combatant martyrdom is a different type of warfare to suicide bombing. The fighter is equipped with firearms, hand grenades and explosives, and is sent behind enemy lines. He often fights to the death.
According to al-Raqqawi, such small quantities of the powder are mixed into the food and drinking water that you cannot taste it.
"After you've been at the training camp for a while, you feel strong and motivated to go to war. Nobody has to ask if you want to fight. You go voluntarily, saying 'sheik Abu Mossaab give me strength to attack the unbelievers'. Because of the powder and the tablets that the suicide bombers take just before they carry out their attacks," says al-Raqqawi.
Are they taking it the whole time, or just occasionally?
"No, no. This is added to the food and drinking water. But they make sure nobody finds out."
Every martyr candidate gives away everything he owns to his friends and family before the mission.
"The married ones who are to be martyrs decide who their wife will marry when they die. It's a way of making sure that she follows in his footsteps," says al-Raqqawi.
A month before the mission, you are permitted to go home and get some rest. You do not have to do anything that month. All your needs are met, so that you can enter "heaven" "debt-free".
"First he is prepared with faith and morale. He gets help with anything he needs. All his wishes are met. Car, money, clothes. All his debts are paid off. Regardless of how much debt you're in, they take care of it. They say that those who are destined for martyrdom must go debt free.
He laughed, as if he wasn't heading off to his death.
What good are cars and money when you are going to kill yourself?
"No, you can't take it with you when you die, but you leave everything to your friends and siblings. You're completely convinced that you're going to paradise."
Al-Raqqawi says that he has had a lot of friends who chose to become suicide bombers. Some of whom he said goodbye to just before they got behind the wheel and drove off in a car loaded with explosives.
They all acted 'normal', according to al-Raqqawi. He talks about one of them, saying:
"He laughed, as if he wasn't heading off to his death."
You were an Emir of the Islamic State, but now you are saying that they are not true Muslims.
"Yes, they're not Muslims."
Nevertheless, you were involved in establishing ISIS and you helped them?
"That's correct. I joined ISIS and stayed with them for a while, but I couldn't protest when they did something that was wrong. All it would have taken is one person testifying against me, that I'd criticised ISIS, and I'd have been slaughtered."
Al-Raqqawi claims that he has not taken part in any executions and that he has not killed anyone.
FACT Abu Abboud al-Raqqawi
Abu Abboud al-Raqqawi was an ISIS commander in Raqqa, Syria. He joined ISIS voluntarily after they seized Raqqa and claimed it as the terrorist organisation's capital three years ago.
He held several high-ranking positions within the Islamic religious police force, al-Hisbah, in Raqqa. Including Emir of ISIS's logistics committee and of a unit within the migration police. He says he was in command of more than 50 men.
Abu Abboud al-Raqqawi claims that, despite being an ISIS commander, he is not responsible for executions or torture. During the interview, however, he does confirm that he attended executions as part of his training in the Sharia camps.
Today he has escaped from Raqqa and is living elsewhere with his four wives. Abu Abboud al-Raqqawi is not his real name, but he has agreed to Expressen publishing photographs of him in connection with the interview.
Translator: Laura Åkerblom