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Inside Iraq's reform center for teen jihadists

Wednesday, February 15, 2017 - 01:54

Wearing funky beads, Laith Abbas comes across as just another Iraqi teenager trying to look cool, until he describes how he clutched an AK-47 assault rifle at checkpoints along with other Islamic State militants who terrorised Mosul. Matthew Larotonda reports.

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Wearing a black vest and a funky beaded ring, Laith Abbas looks like just another Iraqi teenager trying to look cool. That is, until he describes how he clutched an assault rifle while manning Islamic State checkpoints with other fighters in Mosul. Now he's one of 54 teenagers imprisoned at this reform center in Iraq's Kurdish north, as authorities try to deradicalise them and tease out intelligence about the militants. He says he did not join Islamic State willingly. (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) TEENAGE ISLAMIC STATE RECRUIT, LAITH ABBAS, SAYING: "My family was in a feud with another one, my father had killed two of their men, it was settling an old score, and then when Islamic State came, my uncle and cousin pressured me to join. They threatened to give them my whereabouts and said 'We will let them kill you'" Reuters was given exclusive access to Laith and three other suspected militants at the center. All of them said they were forcibly conscripted. Intially, Laith says, the militants wanted him to become a suicide bomber. But he refused. ''My sister and mother are sick and my two brothers are sick. I couldn't leave them." He says he tried to quit after 15 days. Instead they tortured him for three days as punishment. Reuters cannot independently verify the teenagers' stories and one official we spoke with said he doubted they were all forced conscripts. Many Mosul residents have admitted to backing Islamic state when they took the city in 2014, initially regarding them as protectors of Iraq's Sunni minority. (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) ZAKI SALEH MOUSSA, HEAD OF REFORM INSTITUTION, SAYING "We try to change their thoughts, from abnormal thoughts to love of life and nature and society and their families and their country. " As Iraq's military pushes deeper into the Islamic State stronghold, more stories like Laiths are bound to come out. A generation of youths coming away from years of strife.

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Inside Iraq's reform center for teen jihadists

Wednesday, February 15, 2017 - 01:54