The children were each given a doll and a sword. Then they were lined up, more than 120 of them, and given their next lesson by their ISIS instructors: Behead the doll. A 14-year-old among the boys from Iraq's Yazidi minority said at first he couldn't cut it—he chopped once, twice, three times. "Then they taught me how to hold the sword, and they told me how to hit. They told me it was the head of the infidels," the boy, renamed Yahya by his captors, recalled last week after escaping ISIS. When ISIS extremists overran Yazidi towns last year, they butchered older men, and women and girls were given to ISIS loyalists as sex slaves. But dozens of young Yazidi boys like Yahya had a different fate: They forced them to convert to Islam and turned them into jihadi fighters.
It is part of a concerted effort by the extremists to build a new generation of militants: The group is recruiting teens and children, using cash, gifts, intimidation and brainwashing. As a result, children have been plunged into the group's atrocities. Yahya spent nearly five months in a camp, undergoing eight to 10 hours a day of training, including running, exercising, weapons training, and studying the Quran. "By God, Obama and all those allied against the State, we will kill you. Who will? We lion cubs of the caliphate," proclaims one boy who looks younger than 10, holding an automatic rifle. The effects of the indoctrination are chilling. In an IS video last month, 25 boys with pistols take position between 25 captured Syrian soldiers in the Syrian city of Palmyra. Unflinching, each boy shoots a soldier in the back of the head. Yahya is grateful to be out of the terrifying camp. "I was scared," Yahya said. "I knew I wouldn't be able to behead someone like that. Even as an adult."