In its new propaganda video Islamic State has resorted to its increasingly prominent tactic of using children to record its messages – in this case a little girl who beheads a doll with a knife, to symbolize killing “infidels.” Many such children later become suicide bombers.
A child-sized figure, wearing a niqab, the head-to-toe female clothing adopted in conservative Muslim societies, appears at the start of the video, and starts singing in a high-pitched voice.
After promising to “exterminate” and “terrorize” unbelievers, she says she will take jihad to foreign lands, as she jabs a knife toward the camera. She calls the weapon a “blade of revenge” and promises to attack those who “deserve it.”
As the girl stops singing she gets down on her knees, cries out “Allahu Akbar!” and methodically cuts off the head of a doll.
It is unclear when or where the video was filmed. But it appeared through broadcast channels on the messenger Telegram late last week.
While the juxtaposition of violence and children seems shocking to outsiders, Islamic State (IS, ISIS/ISIL) takes pride in indoctrinating the young in its values, though it is not always clear if the recruits are performing in front of the camera voluntarily, or have been pressured or threatened into it.
Many of the videos are similar to the latest one, featuring small children making threats on camera, often in languages other than Arabic, being offspring of older Western recruits.
But several in the past 12 months have been truly disturbing.
One in February, featuring Isa Dare, a 4-year-old nicknamed Jihadi Junior, blowing up “spies” in a car loaded with explosives with the push of a button.
Another from the same period shows a small boy beheading a man.
In a third video, an 11-year-old boy says goodbye to his father in a stern parting, as the two inspect a truck that will be used for a suicide bombing. The boy named Abu Imara al Omri then drove the truck into a group of pro-government soldiers, killing himself and others.
Yet these are not novelty outliers, but representatives of routine IS tactics.
West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center calculated in February that in the 13 months between January 1, 2015 and January 31, 2016, 89 children were “immortalized” as martyrs by Islamic State.
Most died in either suicide attacks, or plunge attacks, in which child soldiers assault a target, and detonate themselves next to their enemies.
The numbers have been rising sharply in the past several months suggesting that this tactic is being forced upon IS, who are having to rely on ever-less-experienced warriors to achieve its military aims.
Of course, the deaths of children also attract more attention, and they are also easier to manipulate, and otherwise considered less valuable than adults by the militants – making them the perfect vehicle for suicide attacks.
Under pressure from two international coalitions, IS has lost a quarter of its territory and half of its oil revenue in the past 18 months.
The US-backed Iraqi army is currently driving a mass offensive towards their biggest stronghold in the country, Mosul, while local militant groups are also fighting through heavy resistance in Syria to capture the nominal capital of IS, Raqqa.