Summary: Here Stratfor examines a growing and disturbing aspect of fourth generation warfare — the increased use of children as soldiers — by jihadists. This can help us to better know what to expect from this dark aspect of our future, and to prepare for it.
The Stray Cubs of the Caliphate
By Scott Stewart at Stratfor, 2 December 2016.
The use of child soldiers is a practice that is as old as the history of warfare itself. Since its founding, the Islamic State has embraced the tactic, but has added a modern twist with the use of social media to gather young recruits into the radical jihadist movement. And as international pressure has squeezed the group on the battlefield, it has increasingly used the children under its sway to carry out combat operations — even suicide bombings.
On Dec. 16, German news outlets reported that a 12-year-old German-Iraqi boy was arrested after twice trying and failing to detonate a homemade explosive device near a Christmas market in Ludwigshafen, a city on the Rhine River across from Mannheim. A passer-by noticed an unattended backpack and alerted police, who found that it contained a glass jar filled with gunpowder. A wire protruded from a hole in the lid of the jar, suggesting that the boy was trying to detonate the gunpowder using a battery or other source of electricity. The jar bomb, covered with nails, was clearly intended to hurt or kill people. Despite its relatively simple design and small scale, had the boy managed to ignite the device in a crowd, it could have done serious damage.
Authorities did not specify how they linked the boy to the device, but it is likely that surveillance camera footage helped. He apparently first tried to set off the device on Nov. 26, then tried again nine days later — indicating the backpack had been in place for some time. It appears as if police waited to publicize the incident until after they had detained the boy.
Police said that the preteen had been radicalized after communicating with an unidentified member of the Islamic State over the Telegram instant messaging app. The boy reportedly expressed a desire to travel to Syria, but it appears as if his Islamic State contact persuaded him to remain in Germany to conduct an attack there. This is in keeping with the trends we have been following in Islamic State propaganda and its efforts to radicalize grassroots jihadists in the West and equip them to conduct simple attacks. In this case, the would-be attacker was a child, offering a glimpse into how the Islamic State is trying to build the next generation of jihadism.