ISIS has just released another video of an execution of a prisoner, who it claims is an Israeli spy. If their usual brutality wasn't enough, this time the killer is a child.
The video shows an Israeli passport, which ISIS claims belongs to the victim, identified as East Jerusalem Palestinian Muhammad Musallam. Musallam's family told Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz in February that he had originally traveled to Syria to join ISIS. Now the group appears to have executed him, claiming he was working for the Israeli spy agency Mossad.
"I tried to call him and the telephone was turned off," Musallam's father told Ha'aretz. "I thought that maybe he was busy. After a week we got an email that he wanted to be a martyr and he was giving up everything in his life and his family."
ISIS has a long-established strategy of releasing grisly videos of its executions. But the fact that the killer in this video, who looks to be a boy no older than 12, is particularly chilling. In two photos from the video released by the SITE group, you can see the child pointing a gun at Musallam's head.
Vox has blurred the image of the child's face, as child soldiers are incapable of fully comprehending the consequences of their actions and consenting to fight in war. But in this image, you can see him cheering:
The release of this video is broadly consistent with the general strategy behind ISIS's taped executions: terrifying audiences into conceding the control of its territory, attracting foreign fighters who want to join the ultraviolence, and showing potential ransom targets what happens if they don't pay.
This is at least the second time ISIS has released a video in which a child plays the role of executioner. That, too, makes sense by ISIS's disturbing logic: they want to instill their beliefs in the children of Iraq and Syria in order to make the so-called "Islamic State" sustainable over generations.
According to a November UN report, ISIS has turned Syria's schools into indoctrination camps. In Raqqa, ISIS's de facto capital, children are sat down for mass screenings of ISIS soldiers executing prisoners of war. They're instructed to inform on their parents if they violate ISIS strictures. This new video takes this idea to its logical conclusion.
There's one small mercy amidst all this darkness: ISIS's use of children in war may be a sign of growing desperation. ISIS is losing on the battlefield in Iraq, and its expansion in Syria has been essentially stopped. The turn to conscripts, including child soldiers, appears to be a sign that it's having trouble filling its ranks with voluntary adult soldiers. That said, the grotesque use of a child in a taped execution tells us that even if the trend is hopeful, the conflict in Syria and Iraq today remains horrific — and will likely remain so for some time.