11 February 2016
In December 2015, Malaysian police reported that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) had set up camps in Kazakhstan and Syria to train and indoctrinate children as young as two years old to become militants. It was alleged that the camps were training children from all over the world in the use of firearms, as well as immersing them in what one senior Malaysian police officer called a ‘false jihad’.
While the Kazakh ambassador in Singapore swiftly issued a rebuttal of the Malaysian claim, it is worth noting nevertheless that news is available – including apparently video evidence produced by ISIS itself- of Kazakh children being trained by ISIS. More generally, terrorism researchers have confirmed that ISIS ‘actively recruits children’ to engage in ‘combat, including suicide missions’ (Stern and Berger 2015: 210). In any case, Southeast Asian authorities were hardly surprised at the latest allegations of ISIS targeting youth for Islamist indoctrination. Since September 2014, it has been known that ISIS has set up a Southeast Asian unit of Malay-speaking militants, drawn from mainly Indonesia but also Malaysia. According to some estimates, the unit called Katibah Nusantara (KN), or the Malay Archipelago Unit, held sway amongst 450 Indonesian and Malaysian fighters and their families in the Syrian/Iraq region, as of November 2015 (Arianti and Singh, 2015).
Of particular interest, KN has apparently set up the Abdullah Azzam Academy for the education and military training of children of Malaysian and Indonesian fighters. The medium of instruction is in the Malay language, and KN appears desirous of training a new generation of Malay-speaking militants indoctrinated from childhood to be committed to ensuring that the so-called ISIS Caliphate, inaugurated by its titular leader Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi in June 2014, eventually encompasses Malay-speaking Southeast Asia as well. In March 2015, moreover, a two-minute video emerged via ISIS social mediasources in which ethnic Malay-looking children were seen training with weapons. The video declared that these children will ‘finish all oppressors, disbelievers, apostates’. The underlying message to Southeast Asian governments was unmistakable: ‘These children will be the next generation of fighters. You can capture us, kill us, we will regenerate, no matter how hard you try’. Terrorism scholars agree in this connection that from the ISIS perspective, ‘[l]eadership decapitation is significantly less likely to be effective against organizations that prepare children to step into their fathers’ shoes’ (Stern and Berger, 2015b: 211).
… Kumar Ramakrishna is Associate Professor and Head of Policy Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He is an expert in counterterrorism with a focus on radicalisation. Elements of this analysis are based on his book Islamist Terrorism and Militancy in Indonesia: the Power of the Manichean Mindset (2015).
GPO / RSIS / Online
Last updated on 15/02/2016