The children of foreign fighters living in Isis territory in Syria and Iraq are being trained to become the “next generation” of terrorists, Europe’s law enforcement agency has warned.
There are concerns the number of young boys forced into Isis ranks will increase as young children taken to live in its territories or born to “jihadi brides” grow up.
In its annual report on terrorism in the European Union, Europol said children raised under the group’s rule are of “particular concern”.
“In their propaganda, Isis has often shown that they train these minors to become the next generation of foreign terrorist fighters, which may pose a future security threat to member states,” the Europol report said.
“Some returnees will perpetuate the terrorist threat to the EU via facilitation, fundraising, recruitment and radicalisation activities. They may also serve as role models for future would-be violent jihadists.”
More than 50 children from the UK are living in the “caliphate”, where there are also an estimated 31,000 pregnant women, an investigation by the Quilliam Foundation found earlier this year.
Among them is Isa Dare, the son of a London woman known as Khadijah Dare, who was shown appearing to blow up a car containing three prisoners in a propaganda video in February. “We will kill the kuffars (infidels) over there,” he was shown saying, while wearing military fatigues and an Isis headband, almost four years after being taken to Syria as a baby.
He was accompanied by a teenage boy who spoke with a British accent, threatening the UK and members of the US-led coalition bombing Isis territories.
Another British jihadist known as Abu Rumaysah – real name Siddhartha Dhar – taunted intelligence agencies by posing with his newborn son under one arm and a gun in the other after escaping surveillance and a travel ban to reach Syria in 2014.
Boasting of his ambitions for his son, he wrote on Twitter: “Alhamdulillah (all praise be to Allah) Allah (God) blessed me with a healthy baby boy in the Islamic State.
“He is another great addition to the Islamic State. And he’s definitely not British.”
Several other fighters have also posted images of their children on social media, including a sleeping infant surrounded by an Isis ID card, hand grenade and pistol.
Analysts say Isis leaders see the children as crucial to secure the group’s long-term success and consider them better and more lethal fighters because of their indoctrination and desensitisation since birth.
The deadly impact of foreign training has been seen in recent terror attacks, with several of the Paris and Brussels gunmen having combat experience in Syria.
Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, an activist group that documents Isis atrocities, raised concern that even if Isis is defeated, its young recruits could continue bloody attempts to establish a brutal caliphate, calling them a “lost generation”.
Nikita Malik, a senior researcher from the Quilliam Foundation, told The Independent children are being used as part of the terrorist group’s “state-building exercise” in Iraq and Syria.
“They are an immediate threat and will become a much longer-term one,” she added. “Their educational indoctrination breeds hatred against the West and calls all other states illegitimate – these children will have no access to or memory of any other ideas.”
Ms Malik warned that the Government has no comprehensive strategy in place for rehabilitating and re-educating the children of foreign fighters, especially if they return in large numbers in the event of Isis being eradicated. “Many of these children will know nothing about Britain but the current legislation means the UK has a responsibility towards them as citizens. It’s a very complex situation,” she said.
Isis propaganda agencies have published numerous videos and images showing children being trained and indoctrinated with the group’s brutal ideology. Footage of a camp for “Cubs of the Caliphate” near its de-facto capital of Raqqa in Syria showed boys as young as five wearing combat gear and Isis headbands as they are ordered to carry out military exercises.
Other propaganda has shown boys fighting each other and practising martial arts, as well as receiving jihadist instruction from older militants.
Parents who have fled Isis territory have described their children being “brainwashed” in Isis schools, with some being taught how to make bombs or being sent home with Caucasian dolls dressed in orange jumpsuits to behead as “homework”.
While the indoctrination for boys ultimately prepares them for combat, girls are taught separately how to cook, clean and support their future husbands’ “jihad” according to Isis’s interpretation of sharia.
Europol’s report said girls are not yet permitted to fight but are trained to raise their children in line with Isis ideology, with the promise of “respect and affection” from male relatives. They are encouraged to accept the death of future husbands and sons, who are prepared to take part in battles and terror attacks from a young age.
The number of children born to foreign fighters is believed to be increasing as a growing proportion of “jihadi brides” travel to join Isis. Europol said 40 per cent of Dutch arrivals in the “caliphate” are women, who find themselves less likely to be able to flee, should they change their minds, than their male counterparts, and are remarried if their husbands die to enable them to continue to bear children.
A report for the Combating Terrorism Centre found that at least 89 child soldiers have died fighting for Isis in a year, mainly in Iraq and Syria. Most were used to drive car and truck bombs into military positions and other security targets, while others were killed in battle or in suicide attacks against civilians.
Europol estimates that more than 5,000 European citizens have travelled to conflict zone in Syria and Iraq – mainly to join Isis – but said the flow has slowed since an increase in counter-terror measures and intensifying air strikes and military defeats.
The agency warned that although refugee routes into Europe were not being “systematically” used by Isis, terrorists have hidden themselves among migrants using fraudulent documents, and said there was a “real and imminent danger” of Sunni Muslim Syrian asylum seekers becoming vulnerable to radicalisation once in Europe.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said she could not say how many British children were living under Isis control, or had been born in the group’s territories.
According to Government figures at least 850 individuals of “national security concern” have travelled from the UK to join the Syrian conflict, of whom around 15 per cent have been killed while half have returned.