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With Blond Dolls And Kitchen Knives, ISIS Teaching Children How To Behead

Boys in the eastern city of Raqqa are forced into military training, and say their ISIS instructors show them how to decapitate blond-haired, blue-eyed dolls with kitchen knives.

Homework
Homework
Omar Abdullah

This summer, in his hometown of Raqqa, 13-year-old Mohammad was forced to attend a children's training camp established by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). When his father opposed his son's conscription, ISIS fighters threatened to kill him. Mohammad left for camp, which his father describes as a form of "brainwashing the children."

After his return, his mother says she was surprised to find a blond, blue-eyed doll in his bag — along with a large knife given to her son by his ISIS supervisors. When she confronted Mohammad, he told her that the camp manager had distributed the dolls and asked that the children decapitate them using the knife, and that they were asked to cover the dolls' faces when they performed the decapitation.

It was his homework: practice beheading a toy with the likeness of a blond, white Westerner.

Mohammad's father says the other camp parents corroborated his son's story — their children had all been given dolls and knives, too. In Raqqa, ISIS's Syrian stronghold, residents say children are slowly being forced into lives under the Sunni militant group's notoriously brutal interpretation of Sharia law.

Orange jumpsuits for dolls

Those living in the eastern city say ISIS has instituted rules banning traditional children's games and forcibly conscripting children to ISIS. They say ISIS is recruiting children under 15 to special ISIS camps established to introduce minors to the foundations of their brand of Islam.

Some of the male children are then transferred to an adult military camp, where they are trained to use arms and fight. Sources familiar with activity inside the camp say in order to teach the children how to use knives, ISIS has distributed dolls with blond hair and blue eyes, like many Europeans and Americans, dressed in orange jumpsuit uniforms like those worn by prisoners in Guantanamo. The children are given large knives and told to decapitate the dolls.

Mohammed said that older kids were asked to show the rest of the group how to decapitate dolls. Anyone who failed to perform the task was punished.

Soon after Mohammad's return from ISIS camp, his father, spurred by the fear of seeing his son become an ISIS fighter, decided that the family must flee Raqqa. Gathering what they could, they left for the Turkish city of Urfa.

Mohammad's mother says many other families also fled Raqqa due to forced child conscriptions.

"Nowadays, it's the children in Raqqa who come out to see the executions and crucifixions carried out by ISIS," his father says.

Mohammad's mother says many other families also fled Raqqa due to forced child conscriptions. "The regime hasn’t spared its arms, using everything they have against us," she says. "Then ISIS tries to teach our children that they should consider us infidels and cut off our heads."

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In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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