By: Jake Edmiston
Posting photos of a gun-toting child online, ISIS supporters announced that the group’s youngest soldier has died in combat.
Twitter accounts linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham claimed that the child soldier “got martyred” with his father while fighting for the terrorist group in Syria.
Photos posted on Twitter showed the smiling boy in military fatigues holding weapons that, at times, are almost as large as his body. British media reported that the child was roughly 10 years old.
The photos of the boy first emerged in June, said Charlie Cooper, a researcher who monitors ISIS social media for the London-based Quilliam counter-extremism think tank.
In the past week, Mr. Cooper has noticed the hashtag “shibal_alBaghdadi” — which translates as “the cub of Baghdadi” — on Twitter accounts linked to ISIS.
While ISIS fighters commonly refer to themselves as lions of the Islamic State, Mr. Cooper said, they refer to child soldiers as cubs of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, ISIS’s self-proclaimed caliph.
Mr. Cooper first saw ISIS supporters tweeting that the young boy was dead on Sept. 26. And while he says social media often produces fabricated reports to make ISIS seem “more brutal than it is,” the reports of the dead child appear to be coming directly from ISIS. One Twitter account said the boy was killed in a U.S. air strike, though that has not been confirmed.
ISIS supporters identified the boy as Abu Ubaidah.
“It seems like a very legitimate thing,” Mr. Cooper said in a telephone interview Thursday, adding that ISIS is known to use child soldiers. “I would vouch for it.”
A United Nations report on Iraq this month said children conduct patrols for ISIS, arrest and guard prisoners, carry weapons and are forced to give blood to help injured fighters. While the boy allegedly killed last month was listed as 10, the UN said child soldiers with ISIS are as young 12 and 13 years old.
Children are also frequently used in ISIS propaganda, with photos showing children in “uniform and parading alongside adults being frequently posted on social media,” the UN reported.
“Everyone at NATO headquarters is worried about the use of children by ISIS,” said Shelly Whitman, executive director of the Halifax-based Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative.
“If we [Canada] send boots on the ground, we’re going to see this face to face,” she said.
Currently, the six-month Canadian mission in Iraq will be limited to air strikes, with a ban on deploying any combat troops on the ground.