ISIS has been emerging as a powerful terrorist organization since the establishment of its alleged state in 2014, when it extended its influence over vast areas in Iraq and Syria. Although it has suffered successive losses and its caliphate collapsed in March 2019 in Syria, ISIS supporters are still recruiting new followers to carry out attacks here and there.
A report entitled “How the Islamic State see the future” issued by the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) stressed that ISIS is still alive and represents a great danger despite its defeat in Syria and Iraq and the flight of the rest of its members to different parts of the world. The terrorist organization believes that it still has the opportunity to return again, especially after it succeeded in attracting 27,000 recruits from children and teenagers, as well as the sons and supporters of terrorists, some of whom are still detained in camps in Syria, including 600 European citizens.
The report stated that ISIS’s loss of lands that it had seized by force in Syria and Iraq did not in any way harm its strength or resources, as it was able to renew itself, update its misleading account of jihad, with new powers and strategies, to carry out the ultimate goal: the conquest of the European continent.
The report explained how terrorist organizations were able to re-adapt themselves and to exploit the concept of jihad in a way other than its intent, in order to influence the minds of young people and attract them. Thus, the name of ISIS’s online magazine changed its name in 2016 from Dabiq to Rumiyah (meaning Rome), in a sign from the organization that its new target is the center of global Christianity.
Alan Duncan, former British Minister of State for Europe and the Americas, also made a documentary about his visit to the Al-Hol refugee camp in Syria, known as the “womb of ISIS”, which includes a number of children and women from the organization. The documentary shows some 10-year-old boys bragging about their fighting spirit in front of the cameras. When asked about the meaning of these signs, they answered, “It means that ISIS is still alive, and we want to fight the apostates!” The cameras also show a woman wearing a black burqa saying, “I want my children to be Mujahideen, to fight the infidels!”
In March 2021, a British government report indicated that during the past 12 months, children’s exposure to ISIS terrorist recruitment via the internet increased by up to 7% compared to 2020. Hence, the EUISS report confirmed that terrorist organizations such as ISIS and others are working silently and tirelessly, noting that 27,000 young people, most of whom are children of militants who were born in the ISIS lands and grew up amid the battles waged by the organization, should not be underestimated. The report emphasized that even if the vast majority were minors, this does not automatically mean that they are innocent or have innocent intentions, because the principle that most of them adhere to is life under ISIS.
The Al-Azhar Observatory stressed that training children is not new, as ISIS trained children during its period of power and used them as spies or suicide bombers. In July 2019, a 13-year-old boy blew himself up during a wedding party in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, killing five people and wounding 40 others. The scene was filmed and propagated in favor of the terrorist organization, in a heinous abuse of humanity and the innocent spirit of childhood.
In 2006, the United Nations condemned the presence of 250,000 children worldwide who were recruited to fight in nearly 20 conflicts. At that time, ISIS was just an idea, but in a short time it already had in the first months of 2015 more than 1,500 children fighting on the front line, and more than 1,000 other children who were trained as suicide bombers.
So, the most dangerous thing about ISIS’s recruitment of 27,000 people is that the recruits are of young ages. This means that the terrorist organization is adopting a new strategy that will attract more children to the organization who can carry out attacks that are less deadly but more frequent. Unfortunately, anti-extremism programs and prevention measures are not specifically designed for children. Also, it is not only about new children recruits, but also about resources, as the organization has approximately $300 million in cash.
In fact, the question is no longer how ISIS is able to recruit so many children, but when will it launch its next attacks?
In past years, children’s participation was limited to propaganda for the organization and bragging about it on an almost daily basis. Children were always present in multiple contexts, such as attending executions, being in training camps, advocacy campaigns and more.
Accordingly, EUISS tries to put European politics on alert, as the report states, “Europe will have to brace itself for more attacks. The following considerations should be borne in mind by policymakers as a way to manage this:
- Accept that the survival of ISIS is not contingent on its status as a proto-state and develop a long-term strategy aimed at undercutting its recruitment efforts in Europe.
- Develop capacities to detect, monitor and manage the early radicalization of juveniles.
- Prioritize youth unemployment in post-Covid-19 recovery efforts.
- Swiftly implement the new EU legislation allowing for the removal of online terrorist content.
- Prepare for attacks on ‘softer’ targets such as railways and motorways.”
Therefore, the Al-Azhar Observatory has stressed the need to continue international efforts to combat this malignant epidemic. The Observatory also called for concerted efforts among all countries militarily and intellectually, maximizing and activating the role of respected religious institutions in this fight, supporting rehabilitation and integration programs for these young people and children, and using all available means to achieve that. The danger of abhorrent terrorism is not confined to Europe alone, as the Arab and Islamic countries have been the most affected by it. His Eminence the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Dr. Ahmed al-Tayyeb said, “It is necessary for officials in Europe to be convinced and realize that terrorism does not represent Islam or Muslims. Muslims are the primary victims of terrorism, our country is a victim of terrorism and our economy is affected by terrorism, and this terrorism exists among the followers of every religion and system.”