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How the Islamic State indoctrinates Afghan children

November 17, 2015 at 6:15 PM EDT
How does the Islamic State convert children to their cause? Journalist Najibullah Quraishi visited IS militants in their Afghan stronghold to find out. He speaks with William Brangham about the experience.

GWEN IFILL: Tonight on Frontline: an unprecedented look at how Islamic State militants have spread across one country at the center of the war on terrorism.

With remarkable access to the militants themselves, tonight’s report, “ISIS in Afghanistan,” shows how the group is expanding its control in the country, fighting some members of the Taliban, co-opting others, and battling Afghan national army forces.

William Brangham has the story.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: After months of negotiations, Afghan journalist Najibullah Quraishi got permission from ISIS militants to come visit their stronghold in Afghanistan.

In his Frontline report, Quraishi shows not only how ISIS is gaining power in that nation, but also how they’re indoctrinating young Afghan children into their cause.

NARRATOR: In the ISIS-held district of Shaigal, the group is using many techniques to groom young children to fight and die for the Islamic State.

MAN (through interpreter): This is the latest Islamic State video. You will see 17 or 18 people being killed.

MAN (through interpreter): Where is this?

MAN (through interpreter): Sham.

MAN (through interpreter): In Iraq?

MAN (through interpreter): Yes, in Iraq.

NARRATOR: The fighters tell Najibullah they receive propaganda videos directly from ISIS in Syria and Iraq. They say they show the videos to the village children every day.

MAN (through interpreter): The village is saying they’re all infidels and special forces soldier.

MAN (through interpreter): What are they going to do with them now?

MAN (through interpreter): They’re taking them to the kill zone for execution. They’re wiping them off the face of the earth.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI, Journalist: I was asking them, why they are watching in front of these young children. They said they should learn, they should know from now, and it’s normal for them.

NARRATOR: The videos don’t just show attacks and atrocities. This is an ISIS military school for children somewhere in the Middle East.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: All these videos, they’re just telling them how to kill people, how to behead, and how to become suicide bombers. And their main thing is to kill infidels.

This is their aim. And they are clearly telling, this is in Koran. So what does the child believe? What does he think? He thinks, yes, I am Muslim, and he’s telling me the truth.

NARRATOR: Najibullah films the Afghan children copying what they have just watched.

MAN (through interpreter): Bend your knees a little, feet apart. Keep your arms straight. Fire. God is great.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: When I saw these young children, I was really, really upset, really sad. I was thinking about Afghanistan future, Afghanistan’s next generation. What we have next?

These children who learn how to kill people, how to do jihad, how to behead, how to fire? This would be Afghanistan?

MAN (through interpreter): You stand with the Kalashnikov like this, OK?

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: I was thinking maybe the war will never end, never. And the people will keep suffering from war.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Najibullah Quraishi joins me now from London.


This is a very, very powerful piece of reporting. You really get to see ISIS in action in a way that many of us in the West have never seen before. Why is it, do you think, they let you in?

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Well, when I heard first about ISIS in Afghanistan, then I started contacting the people who used to work for me. I mean some local journalists.

And then we found some villages and elders. So, through the elders, we send a message out to them, to their leader. I mean ISIS commander in Afghanistan. I asked them if they allow me to film them about their presence in Afghanistan.

So, then they told to the villages of the people I sent over to wait. So, I was waiting for almost eight — or over eight months, until they called us in. And they said, come, and we’re ready to be filmed.

So I was excited that I am going to meet them or filming them about their daily life, or at least I would expose them, what they are doing there.

And the other side of my life was my family, my wife, my children. To be honest, this was kind of 50/50. I was, like, 50 percent hope that I would come back again and 50 percent I wasn’t.

To expose such kind of stories, it’s always dangerous. It’s always — there is a risk. But we have to tell the story. If not, then who shall tell?

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The scenes of the children and the education, if you can call it that, that they’re getting are really quite terrifying.

And I was wondering if you could just tell us a little bit more about the men who think that this is a good thing to teach children, to teach children so young to learn how to kill.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: I have never seen this in my journalism life before.

At the beginning, I didn’t know when they mentioned me they have a school, they are children, if I want to go and film. I was thinking maybe there is a proper lesson, they maybe learn some mathematics, some grammar or some language or something or maybe proper Koran. I was thinking like this.

But, suddenly, I come across with jihad for 3 years old, or 4- or 5-year-old children. You’re telling what is jihad and how to kill. So then I was shocked.

MAN (through interpreter): What is this word? Jihad. What is jihad?

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: These guys mainly come from Pakistan.

They were telling me that this is the time they should teach the children, and they should learn from now and they should be prepared.

MAN (through interpreter): Fire it from a standing position, like this.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: For them, they should be ready for fighting, for everything at the age of 12 or 13 for something like this.

They were asking the children about the weapons, for example, how many bullets it takes, where this pistol made from, where is Kalashnikov made from, why we should use this, and who should we — against with this, and lots of different things which the children knew from this age.

Then, on the film, you can see the second generation, which is all the teenagers, like 13 or 17. And they’re ready to blow themselves up or to do a suicide attack.

I came to the conclusion about Afghanistan’s future and Afghanistan’s next generation. Still, we have over 90 percent uneducated people. We don’t have security. Day by day, all the terrorists come into Afghanistan, all the farmers.

Right now in Afghanistan, we have Haqqani Network. We have Hezb-e-Islami or Hekmatyar. We have the Taliban. And now we have this crazy group, the most — worst group ever I have seen in my life. And I cannot see any bright future about that country, and I don’t think if there is any — any power to defeat them.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Given the news of the most recent attacks that we have seen in France just recently, everyone’s been wondering about ISIS’ motives.

And you have actually now spent a good deal of time with some of these militants. What — when you heard about the attacks in France, did that come as a surprise to you or not?

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: Well, to be honest, no.

No, it doesn’t come as a surprise for me, because their aim is not — they’re not talking about one village or one district or one country. They’re talking about the world. They’re not like a Taliban.

For example, the Taliban says, we are in Afghanistan, and we are not threat for other countries or Russia or Iran or other countries. Our aim is to capture Afghanistan and to have Sharia law here in Afghanistan.

But they are not like this. They say, we want to go to Europe, we want to go to, like, other countries, like Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China, Iran, Pakistan. And they’re threatening the world. They’re not threatening only one country or one province or one district.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Najibullah Quraishi, thank you very much for joining us. And thank you for this terrific piece of journalism.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: You’re welcome. Thanks a lot.

GWEN IFILL: Frontline airs tonight on most PBS stations.