An unresolved issue: the minors of the Daesh terrorist organisation

The arrest on 7 December last in the Madrid neighbourhood of Villaverde of an imam who was recruiting minors for the Daesh terrorist organisation [1] once again revealed the recruiters’ intention to recruit the youngest members, as they are easily mouldable in order to be trained to form part of the terrorist organisation.

In recent years in Spain there have been numerous cases that show the indoctrination to which, in the worst cases, the most vulnerable minors are exposed and subjected. However, it should be noted that the terrorist organisation has been the one that has most exploited indoctrination as a recruitment tool after the expansion of the false caliphate in Syria and Iraq between 2014 and 2019.

Likewise, there are hard-to-access sources that document how the terrorist organisation was prodigious in issuing videos in which minors were instructed by jihadists to carry out assassinations against captured prisoners.

Some relevant examples
On 27 September 2023, an Ecuadorian woman who had sworn allegiance to Daesh was arrested in Vitoria for indoctrinating her minor children in jihad and planning a trip to Syria to join the terrorist organisation [2]. Another case took place in October 2022 in the city of Melilla, specifically in the White Mosque, where Imam Amin Harchaouihn was arrested for indoctrinating minors to become jihadists and ‘soldiers of Allah’ [3].

In January 2015, in a conflict zone, a Daesh video was published in which a child wielding a pistol and accompanied by a member of the organisation, shot in the back of the head two Russian prisoners whom the terrorist organisation accused of being spies [4]. In March of the same year, a video was published in which another child, accompanied by an adult member of the terrorist organisation, killed a prisoner somewhere in Syria who was accused of being a Mossad spy. The child shot him in the forehead, killing him seconds later [5]. In June of that year, 25 Syrian soldiers captured by Daesh were shot in the head in the ruins of the Roman theatre of Palmyra by conscientiously trained minors in military fatigues. The staging shows Syrian soldiers kneeling in front of the crowd and behind them the black Daesh flag waiting to be shot in the back of the head [6].

There are many tragic examples of terrorist training and cold-blooded murders that Daesh set in motion to ensure a jihadist future for many minors in conflict zones. The journalist of the newspaper El Mundo, Francisco Carrión, carried out a report in Dohuk (Iraq), in which he revealed what happened to many minors under the jihadist ideology. One of the protagonists is a boy named Emad, whose grandfather took care of him and recounted what the boy was going through: “He has slowly started to recover, but there are times when he suddenly gets nervous and becomes extremely violent, then he doesn’t accept anyone. He has even threatened to kill us” [7] and, as a RTVE report on this issue states, “Years after the war against ISIS and the liberation of the city, child soldiers and the children of jihadists are part of the most vulnerable society” [8]. The degree of animosity they suffer from the society that endured the Daesh occupation is high, which increases their radicalisation.

The role of associations
In Spain, there are already associations that fight to combat jihadist radicalism, such as the Centro Cultural y de Iniciativa Ciudadana (DARNA), which is responsible for disseminating the principles of human rights, women’s rights and the values of Spanish society [9] as part of the counter-narrative to jihadism, as well as a discourse of peace and coexistence, also providing personal advice to those who need it at the very difficult age of adolescence, and also warning of signs of radicalisation. Daesh often uses the youth of minors to recruit them and offer them outlets that conventional society, according to the jihadists, cannot give them.

Jurisprudence, indoctrination and treatment
Judge José Luis Castro stated in the Confilegal digital newspaper the need for action protocols and treatment programmes to achieve deradicalisation [10]; and, as has been said, the problem is complicated not only by the indoctrination that minors may suffer from Daesh recruiters, but also on some occasions by the family nucleus, since, as has been noted above, there is the possibility that a family member may be a member of the organisation. In line with the above, at the beginning of January, National Court Judge Santiago Pedraz announced the indictment of two Spanish widows of jihadists [11] for membership of the Daesh terrorist organisation in Syria.
– Details of the case –
Yolanda Martinez and Luna Fernandez were with their thirteen children since 2019 in the Syrian camp of Al-Hol under Kurdish control in the Syrian province of Hasakah where the situation of violence is continuous given the limitations and restrictions that have those who inhabit the camp, being the impact on the physical and mental health of children and adolescents devastating [12]. The Al-Hol camp is home to more than 50,000 people of whom around 27,000 are children, the rest being mostly women, wives and widows of Daesh fighters.

The head of Save the Children’s Syrian branch, Sonia Khush, commented on the conditions of the children in the camp: “They cannot learn, socialise, be children. They can’t heal the wounds caused by everything they went through” [13]. And it was there that the minors’ threats were made a month earlier during a visit to the camp by journalists from the Associated Press: “We are the Islamic State” [14], shouted one minor while another simulated a beheading.

A correspondent from the British channel Sky News visited the Al-Hol camp in March 2021, where he witnessed the level of violence there, to the point that a radicalised mother instigated the attempted murder of her own daughter when she tried to disassociate herself from the Daesh terrorist organisation, which she convalescently recounts after recovering from being shot four times while she was asleep by men who entered her tent [15].

In the case of the two Spaniards, they requested their return to Spain from the moment they entered the Syrian camp [16], and once here, in January 2023, they were remanded in custody, and it is known that the four children of Yolanda Martínez were left in the hands of their grandparents [17]. The judge’s indictment was very important for the issue we are dealing with, and that is that it considered the indoctrination work carried out by the defendants with their children and minors in their care in favour of Daesh [18].

A major problem that should be analysed is the current situation of all those minors who committed murders against prisoners in Syria, such as those mentioned above who shot 25 Syrian prisoners in the Roman theatre in Palmyra in 2015. The process of radicalisation that these minors underwent in the conflict zone could have been such that they could have become future jihadists given the degree of indoctrination to which they were exposed. Nine years later, the whereabouts of these then minors are unknown. Nevertheless, it is encouraging that at the national level there is a possibility of working with minors involved in radical jihadist circles or behaviour. Despite this, the factors analysed must be taken into account, as well as the fact that suspected jihadist terrorists in Spain are increasingly young, radical and ready to take action [19].

Bibliography:
[1]El País. (2023, 7 de diciembre). Detenido el imán de una mezquita de barrio de Madrid por ensalzar el terrorismo suicida ante menores. Recuperado en: https://elpais.com/espana/2023-12- 07/detenido-el-imande-una-mezquita-de-barrio-de-madrid-por-ensalzar-el-terrorismo-suicida-ante- menores.html

[2]Izarra, J. (2023, 29 de septiembre). La yihadista de Vitoria preparaba a sus cuatro hijos como ‘leones’ para combatir con el Daesh. El Mundo. Recuperado en: https://www.elmundo.es/pais- vasco/2023/09/29/65171b43e9cf4a64638b45d6.html

[3]Corbacho, J. y Cedeira, B. (2023, 23 de noviembre). Las fotos del imán de Melilla con los menores: les animaba a combatir a “los enemigos del Islam”. Laicismo.org. Recuperado en: https://laicismo.org/las-fotos-del-iman-de-melilla-con-los-menores-les-animaba-a-combatir-a-los- enemigos-del-islam/273109

[4]Carrión, F. (2015, 13 de enero). El IS difunde la ejecución de dos presuntos espías rusos a manos de un niño de 10 años. El Mundo. Recuperado en: https://www.elmundo.es/internacional/2015/01/13/54b561e1ca47415c1b8b4582.html

[5]La Razón. (2015, 10 de marzo). El niño del EI que ejecuta a un presunto agente del Mossad es de nacionalidad francesa. Recuperado en: https://www.larazon.es/internacional/el-nino-del-ei-que- ejecuta-aun-presunto-agente-del-mossad-es-de-nacionalidad-francesa-GY9144549/

[6]EFE. (2015, 4 de julio). Un vídeo muestra a terroristas del EI asesinando a 25 soldados sirios por disparos de menores de edad. Publico. Recuperado en: https://www.publico.es/internacional/video-muestra-terroristas-del-ei.html

[7]Carrión, F. (2018, 2 de enero). El estigma de los niños del Estado Islámico. El Mundo. Recuperado en: https://www.elmundo.es/internacional/2018/01/02/5a3bce9d46163fb53a8b4606.html

[8]de Diego Cerezo, M. (2021, 7 de diciembre). La sociedad iraquí rechaza a los hijos del Dáesh por la crueldad terrorista de sus padres. El Mundo. Recuperado en: https://www.rtve.es/noticias/20211207/documentos-tv-hijos-daesh-rechazados-por-terror- cometieronpadres/2233007.shtml

[9]Sánchez, D. (2017, 2 de septiembre). Desradicalizar a jóvenes islamistas desde el Raval. La Vanguardia.
Recuperado en: https://www.lavanguardia.com/politica/20170903/43958422116/desradicalizar- jovenes-islamistas-raval.html

[10]Moreno, R. (2018, 5 de noviembre). ¿Qué desafíos afrontan los tribunales españoles con la incorporación de menores al yihadismo? El Confidencial. Recuperado en: https://confilegal.com/20181105-que-desafios-afrontan-los-tribunales-espanoles-con-la- incorporacion-de-menores-al-yihadismo/

[11]Saiz-Pardo, M. (2024, 11 de enero). El juez Pedraz abre juicio a las dos españolas que se unieron al Estado Islámico. La Voz de Galicia. Recuperado en: https://www.lavozdegalicia.es/noticia/espana/2024/01/11/pedraz-abre-juicio-dos-espanolas- unieronestado-islamico/00031704990166733850761.htm

[12]Gonzalez, R. (2022, 29 de noviembre). Al-Hol: la prisión al aire libre a la que nadie quiere mirar. El País.
Recuperado en: https://elpais.com/planeta-futuro/red-de-expertos/2022-11-29/al-hol-la-prision-al- airelibre-a-la-que-nadie-quiere-mirar.html

[13]Al Abdo, H. y Mroue, B. Associated Press (2021, 3 de junio). Miles de niños a mereced de la ideología de Estado Islámico. Recuperado en: https://apnews.com/article/noticias229a529b7aa60949284bb3868e796a39

[14]Ídem.

[15]Sky News en Español. (2021, 23 de marzo). El regreso del EI a los campamentos para refugiados en Siria. [Vídeo]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8t2IeKS8cIo

[16]Requena P. (2022, 14 de septiembre). Yihadistas españolas en el limbo. RTVE.es Recuperado en:
https://www.rtve.es/noticias/20200914/yihadistas-espanolas-limbo/2041625.shtml

[17]Gallardo, C. (2023, 15 de junio). La Audiencia Nacional analiza si las esposas de yihadistas repatriadas de Siria adoctrinaron a los menores. El Periódico de España. Recuperado en: https://www.epe.es/es/politica/20230615/audiencia-nacional-analiza-hijos-mujeres-yihadistas- repatriadas-adoctrinados-88748962

[18]Marraco Manuel. (11 de enero del 2024). El juez Pedraz procesa por integración en el Daesh a las dos españolas repatriadas desde Siria junto a sus hijos. Periódico El Mundo. https://www.elmundo.es/espana/2024/01/11/659fe542fdddff55308b458e.html

[19]Peñalosa Gema. (21 de enero del 2024). El nuevo escalón de los yihadistas detenidos en España: más jóvenes, más cerca de atentar y más radicalizados. El Mundo. Recuperado en : https://www.elmundo.es/espana/2024/01/21/65abbd9be4d4d878448b45c8.html

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