Since the beheading of American journalist James Foley this past summer, the Islamic State has managed to successfully recruit young people from around the world to join their cause, including three American teenage girls, who attempted to travel to Turkey and cross into Syria. (Their efforts were quickly thwarted by the FBI and their parents.) Though the terrorist group proudly boasts about its Western members on social media, most of its recruitment remains focused on locals, particularly young boys, in the areas it has taken over.
ISIS has created, quite literally, a "School of Jihad," a phrase commonly found under the hashtag الدولة_الإسلامية on Twitter ('Islamic State' in Arabic). The concept was around long before ISIS executed Foley, with some tweets on the topic dating back several years.
As The Independent's Adam Withnall noted, "Forced viewings of beheadings and torture, training with weapons almost as big as they are and daily lessons in extremist theology: if you’re a boy growing up in ISIS-controlled territory across Syria and Iraq, the word education means something very different to the rest of the world."
Much of the training of young boys focuses on normalizing extreme violence, such as exposing them to public beheadings and automatic weapons from a very early age, and on a regular basis. A recent United Nations report on the war in Syria noted, "Executions in public spaces have become a common spectacle on Fridays in Ar Raqqah and ISIS-controlled areas of Aleppo governorate. ISIS informs residents beforehand and encourages them to attend. In some cases, ISIS forces passers-by to attend. Children have been present at the executions, which take the form of beheading or shooting in the head at close range." In a number of execution videos posted to LiveLeaks, children are often seen playing near the deceased, attempting to be kids in an environment that is anything but childlike.