Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : December 28th 2014 Contents A39
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt December 28, 2014
BAGHDAD---Before war convulsed
his hometown in Syria, Usaid
Barho played soccer, loved Jackie
Chan movies and adored the beau-
tiful Lebanese pop singer Nancy
Ajram. He dreamed of attending
college and becoming a doctor. His
life, to say the least, took a detour.
On a recent evening in Baghdad,
14-year-old Barho, approached the
gate of a Shiite mosque, unzipped
his jacket to show a vest of explo-
sives, and surrendered himself to
"They seduced us to join the
caliphate," he said several days later
in an interview at a secret Iraqi intel-
ligence site where he is being held.
Barho described how he had been
recruited by the Sunni extremists of
the Islamic State from a mosque in
his hometown, Manbij, near Aleppo.
He said he joined the group willingly
because "I believed in Islam."
"They planted the idea in me that
Shiites are infidels and we had to
kill them," he said in the interview,
which took place in the presence of
an Iraqi intelligence official.
If he did not fight, he was told,
Shiites would come and rape his
He soon found himself in Iraq,
but he quickly had misgivings and
wanted to escape. His best chance,
he decided, was a risky deception:
volunteer to be a suicide bomber so
he could surrender to security forces.
The wars in Syria and Iraq have
set grim new standards for the
exploitation and abuse of children.
Thousands of them have been killed
or maimed through indiscriminate
bombings, in crossfire and, in some
Young girls from minority groups,
especially Yazidis in Iraq, have been
captured as sex slaves by the Islamic
State, also known as Isis or Isil.
Young boys have been given rifles
and told to staff checkpoints or patrol
neighbourhoods---or have been
recruited, as Barho was, to become
In the areas it controls in Iraq and
Syria, the Islamic State has estab-
lished centres for the military and
religious training of children, in an
effort to indoctrinate them and build
a new generation of warriors.
One of the group s videos, depict-
ing a camp near Mosul, in northern
Iraq, calls the children the "cubs of
At the camp---named for the bru-
tal leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu
Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed
by an American airstrike in 2006---
children are shown doing physical
fitness exercises and reciting the
Quran, while an instructor explains
that they are being trained to fight
The United Nations wrote in a
report last month that, "Isis priori-
tises children as a vehicle for ensur-
ing long-term loyalty, adherence to
their ideology and a cadre of devoted
fighters that will see violence as a
way of life."
The United Nations has released
a catalog of horrors inflicted on chil-
dren by the Islamic State. In Raqqa,
Syria, the militants de facto capital,
the group has gathered children for
screenings of execution videos. It
has forced children to participate in
public stonings. And in many of the
group s grisly execution videos, chil-
dren are seen among the audience.
In the aftermath of one videotaped
beheading in Deir al-Zour, Syria,
children are seen playing with the
victim s head and mocking the
corpse, according to the SITE Intel-
ligence Group, which monitors the
communications of extremist groups.
Referring to past wars and the role
of children, Laurent Chapuis, the
regional child protection adviser for
the Middle East and North Africa
for the United Nations Children s
Fund (Unicef) said: "When it comes
to recruitment, in the past, kids were
gers or spies. It seems now they are
pushed to take a more active role."
Chapuis said that all parties in
the wars, including pro-government
militias in both countries, were guilty
of abuses of children. What sets the
Islamic State apart, he said, is how
"public and aggressive" they are in
Barho s account of how he went
from a Syrian childhood that he said
was not particularly religious to
become a jihadist held in an Iraqi
cell is one of the few first-hand
accounts from an Islamic State child
soldier turned defector.
The Iraqi authorities have increas-
ingly showcased Islamic State
detainees to the public, as part of a
strategy to demonstrate that the
government is making progress in
the fight, although they have not
typically made detainees available
for interviews with journalists. The
details of Barho s personal back-
ground could not be independently
verified, but his surrender at the
mosque gate was captured on cell-
phone video by a bystander.
First, after the Islamic State took
control of his town, Barho was drawn
to the local mosque. "We started
being taught that Shiites were raping
Sunni women, and that Shiites were
killing Sunni men," he said.
He now says he was brainwashed.
But he admitted that he willingly
ran away from home one morning
on his way to school and joined a
training camp in the desert. For
about a month, he was put through
military training, and he was taught
how to shoot an assault rifle and
how to storm a building. He had
two meals a day, mostly cheese and
Soon, though, he said, "I noticed
things I saw that were different from
Back home he saw the group
inflict severe punishments on men
who were caught smoking cigarettes,
yet in the camp, he said, he saw
fighters smoking. He said he saw
men having sex with other men
behind the tents in the desert night.
And, he said, he was increasingly
put off by "the way they are killing
At the end of the training, he was
told his trainers wanted him to go
fight in Iraq. He was driven, with
other new fighters, in a minibus to
Mosul. There, the recruits were given
a choice: be a fighter or a suicide
"I raised my hand to be a suicide
bomber," he said. That, he figured,
would give him the best chance at
"If I were a fighter and tried to
surrender to security forces they
might kill me, with my gun in my
hand," he said.
Within a few days, he was taken,
along with a German volunteer, on
a circuitous journey to Baghdad. He
said he was passed from one Islamic
State operative to another and stayed
at various safe houses along the
way---including a photography studio
and a house covered by reeds. He
spent a week in Falluja, waiting.
Finally, he arrived in the early
morning at an apartment in Bagh-
dad, where he had tea and kebabs
He was shuttled to another apart-
ment, where he took a nap. Two
hours later, he was shaken awake.
"Wake up, wake up, it is time to
put your vest on," he was told.
He was given his target: a Shiite
mosque in the neighbourhood of
Bayaa. A few hours later, at dusk,
he walked up to the mosque gate.
"I opened up my jacket and said,
I have a suicide vest, but I don t
want to blow myself up. "
The chaotic scene that unfolded,
as a plain clothes officer snipped off
the vest, was captured on cellphone
video by a bystander and distributed
over social media. "Keep the people
away!" one officer yelled.
What happens now to Barho is
unclear. He said he wanted to be
reunited with his family in Syria,
but the Iraqi authorities have not
tried to reach them. The intelligence
officer who has been interrogating
him said he needed more time to
investigate the case.
During the interview, the officer
playfully tapped Barho on the knee
and the top of his head, and urged
him to eat baklava. "Eat more sweets,
they are good for you," he said.
Barho said he still planned to
become a doctor, and hoped to study
in Turkey. He said that he missed
his mother, and that the Iraqis had
promised to return him to his parents
one day. Before the war, he said:
"We were a normal family. It was
just a normal life."
Whether he has a chance at a nor-
mal life again depends, in part, on
how the Iraqis treat him: as a ter-
rorist or as an exploited child.
(New York Times)
Brave boy escapes Isis with...
A hope to live
Syrian teenager, Usaid Barho, had
been recruited by militants to be a
suicide bomber but turned himself in.
He re-enacted the scene for television.
Inset: A suicide vest like the one
"I opened up my
jacket and said, 'I
have a suicide
vest, but I don't
want to blow
Links Archive December 27th 2014 December 29th 2014 Navigation Previous Page Next Page