March 12, 2015

TSG IntelBrief: The Cubs of the Caliphate

• The recent Islamic State video showing a young child apparently shooting and killing a captive is another tragic example of extremist groups not just preying on children but turning children into predators

• In creating what they call ‘cubs of the caliphate’ who become killers at a young age, the Islamic State is attempting to ensure its future regardless of territorial losses, by putting children on a path from which there is almost no return

• In January the group released a video showing another child shooting alleged Russian agents, with the same message that it is grooming the next generation of killers

• Potential Islamic State affiliate Boko Haram also uses young children to kill, forcing them to become suicide bombers to devastating effect; and the group has no shortage of victims given its propensity for kidnapping.


The image of the executioner is as disturbing as the execution. The recent video released by the Islamic State shows a child as young as ten apparently shooting and killing an orange jumpsuit-clad captive named Muhammad Musallam, an Arab Israeli. While the primary message is intended to strike fear into those thinking of spying against the Islamic State (which will increasingly become a problem as conditions worsen for the group), another message is that the group’s longevity isn’t tied to territorial gains but rather to the almost irreversible corruption of children made to murder.

Forcing a child to commit murder is just one of the countless ways the group is relentlessly harvesting the children within its control, and those accessible through social media. This isn’t the first Islamic State video made to showcase a child executioner, whom the group lauds as “cubs of the caliphate.” In January 2015, the group released a video showing a child, likely of Kazakh origin, shooting and killing two individuals accused of being Russian spies. As in the most recent video, the captives are seen confessing to their alleged crimes, and then escorted into a field where they are shot. Both videos deliberately show the child celebrating after the murders.

In this most recent Islamic State video, French authorities confirmed both the child and the adult accompanying him are French citizens. There is unconfirmed reporting that the adult is Sabri Essid, the half-brother of Mohamed Merah. Three years ago to the day of the video’s release (March 11, 2012), Merah murdered three Jewish children, a rabbi, and three French policeman in Toulouse, France. The child seen in the video might be Essid’s son, showing how pernicious and harmful the infection of violent extremism is once it takes hold in a family. The Islamic State is attempting to recreate this on a larger scale, by exposing all the children it can to relentless messages and scenes of violence.

For the children witnessing brutality, the results are extremely troubling; for those children who are forced to engage in the brutality, the results are utterly devastating. It is difficult to conceive of a more vile act than forcing a child to commit murder, and to do so in such cinematic fashion. The most recent video is textbook Islamic State cinematography, with the use of multiple cameras and deliberate and effective staging, to create as much a spectacle as possible and to emphasize the youth of the killer.

Boko Haram, a potential affiliate of the Islamic State, also forces children to kill in its name, but in a different way and with different intent. Boko Haram forces children as young as eight to be suicide bombers, a tactic that is horribly effective, with huge numbers of casualties, because police aren’t normally suspicious of very young children. Yet the repeated use of these children as bombers has actually created fear in the population, so much so that last week a mob killed a young girl because it was thought she was a suicide bomber. This ability to create division and fear to the level that children are suspect is another benefit to the groups and another bloody blow to communities already suffering from violence.

As long as violent extremist groups such as Islamic State and Boko Haram have access to children, it will target them. The damage from their targeting will probably have the most lasting impact, with a generation of children made to believe and to act in the name of an ideology that views them as killers. Whenever the conflicts in Iraq and Syria end, the battle to help so many children recover will begin, and for some of them, it will be too late.


For tailored research and analysis, please contact:

Screen Shot 2013-10-21 at 9.32.42 AM