Recruited against his will, a 13-year-old boy was subject to grotesque acts of terror that included witnessing beheadings, lashings, and stonings.
In an exclusive report by CNN, the boy only identified as Mohammed to protect his identity, was only 13 when ISIS took him from his family to attend one of their children’s camps in northern Syria. When his father attempted to prevent him from participating, the group threatened him with beheading.
“My friends and I were studying at the mosque, and they taught us that we should enroll in jihad with the Islamic State,” Mohammed said in his interview. “I wanted to go, but my father did not allow me to.”
“[The ISIS patrol told me] ‘if you prevent Mohammed from coming to camp, we will cut of your head,’” said Mohammed’s father, who refused to give his name in fear of retaliation from the group.
To strengthen its hold in the Middle East, the group runs children’s camps to produce young recruits. They bombard them with ideas that their adolescent way of thinking cannot begin to comprehend.
“For 30 days we woke up and jogged, had breakfast, then learned the Quran and the Hadith of the Prophet,” Mohammed said. “Then we took courses on weapons, Kalashnikovs and other light military stuff.”
Although some of the militants were kind to the children, others made them bear witness to hideous acts of cruelty.
“They used to bring young [kids] to the camp to lash them,” Mohammed says. “When we go to the mosque, they order us to come the next day at a specific time and place to [watch] heads cut off, lashings or stonings.”
According to CNN, the boys would take oaths of allegiance to ISIS’ leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and were thought prepared to fight once they finished the religious and military courses taught at the camp.
“He is only a child, they might make him a suicide bomber and [convince him] that will be in paradise and stuff like that,” said Mohammed’s father. He attempted to visit his son but was always turned away. He wonders if the ISIS teachings will stick his child’s mind.
“How can a child like that be convinced? Where is the conviction in that? He is a child, it’s not possible,” he said. “He just saw his friends and kids his age went to the camp, so he wanted to go with them for entertainment. They thought war and guns were entertainment.”
Eventually pulling him out of the camp, Mohammed and his family fled to Turkey.
ISIS teaches and requires absolute allegiance to Islam, but Mohammed doesn’t related the group’s message to his own understanding of his religion.
“I love my religion because I am a Muslim,” he said. “And I used to go with my father for the prayers before ISIS came. But my father has taught me that religion is not about fighting, but it is about love and forgiveness.”
CNN reported that Mohammed and his family are safe for now. But as ISIS strengthens and continues to build its stronghold on the region, an increasing number of Syrians will have nowhere to escape to.