Islamic State (ISIS) propaganda frequently features children and teens,[i] who are generally referred to as Ashbal ("[lion] cubs"). These youngsters have various roles within the organization. ISIS also provides them with a number of humanitarian services that it heavily promotes, depicting itself as compassionate and humane; these include care for sick or orphaned children. Children are also prime targets for ISIS's da'wa (Islamic outreach) activities, particularly visibly in 2013 when the organization widely documented many of its public da'wa gatherings.
Children are central to ISIS; they are the future generation of the defenders of the caliphate and they will continue its legacy. ISIS children receive military training, both in camps conducted by the organization and individually, with ISIS fighters. There is little discussion, in the organization and among its supporters, over whether children should be undergoing military training, or even fighting in actual battles. Although there is little documentation of the latter, there is evidence that children are indeed participating in fighting.
In their social media accounts, ISIS supporters proudly present photos of "its" children; in many, they are brandishing weapons. ISIS supporters use such images to prod other Muslims - that is, adults who have not yet done so - to join the jihad. Photos of children reenacting in play some ISIS atrocities, such as the beheading of American photojournalist James Foley, are also widely shared via social media.
In their ISIS environment, children are continuously exposed to ISIS doctrine and actions, and are encouraged to take part in some of those actions. For example, children are often seen among the crowds attending ISIS's public executions - in some cases, holding ISIS banners mere feet away from the bloody events. Children are also prime targets of the organization's heavily promoted and constantly expanding Media Points campaign, which consists of booths set up around the caliphate that distribute ISIS content and religious materials and screen ISIS videos around the clock. ISIS children have little chance of avoiding exposure the organization's doctrine, message, and actions.
This report reviews incidences of children and teens in official and unofficial ISIS publications and releases, in official ISIS social media accounts and social media accounts of ISIS supporters, and in various media reports....
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