Small Wars Journal

Jihadi Generations: Strategies Used for Weaponizing Children (Part 1)

Tue, 04/24/2018 - 12:17am

Jihadi Generations: Strategies Used for Weaponizing Children (Part 1)

Joanne Patti Munisteri


Violent extremist groups are using all methods possible to wage a successful long-term campaign using children.  These groups infiltrate existing systems, threaten and radicalize important players, use extreme forms of violence to attack those they perceive as non-compliant. No foundation of society is off limits be it:  hospitals, schools, religious organizations, legal institutions, law enforcement, orphanages, charities, sports, businesses, transportation, recreation or communication sites.  Every means is justified for their stated aim of a worldwide Islamic caliphate under Sharia law. The scope of this phenomenon has increased in the past decade, however the methods implemented were developed and refined during and after World War II.   No child is left behind if they can be exploited.

Photos below are released by Islamic State on ISIS' preferred anonymous file sharing website- - (December 2014- December 2016)

image 1


While the media concentrate on the atrocities in the Middle East and Africa, countries such as:  Iraq, Syria, Yemen and the African countries of Sudan, Nigeria, Libya, Somalia, Mozambique, Sudan, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo and Chad; the countries I will focus on in this article are: Afghanistan, Pakistan and the USA.

“While the Middle East remains a hotbed for terrorists, we’ve got our own jihad training compounds set up in rural areas across the United States. They are run by an organization called Muslims of America (MOA). Law enforcement describes these compounds as “classically structured terrorist cells, MOA is a branch of the Pakistani group Jamaat ul-Fuqra.” [] 

For a deeper account of the impact of Saudi funding on Jamaat ul-Fuqra and other similar organizations (including at major universities), see Gilles Kepel, Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam, Harvard University Press, 2002, pp. 61-105.

Former FBI Director, James Comey compared ISIS to a “chaotic spider web in the US”.  He said terrorist groups, including ISIS, MOA, [ Muslims of America] MB [Muslim Brotherhood]use social media‘like a job fair’with young people being radicalized in all 50 states. “Far from ‘moderate’, the Brotherhood [MB] is the most dangerous player in the War on Terror-not least because of its demonstrated ability to penetrate and subvert” [Coughlin, Stephen Catastrophic Failure, Center for Security Policy Press, Washington, D.C. 2015, pg 17]

There is a step by step by step process of creating a ‘jihadism’ synonymous with religious duty in Islam, and deliberately combining military training with a version of Islamic education beginning at the primary/elementary school levels programs.  These programs are/were funded from the Gulf Arab States (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the UAE,Qatar) Pakistan and the USA.

An additional but significant ‘branch’ of Islamic education predicated on the foundation of sharia law, is from the Gulen Foundation and the Hizmet Movement founded by Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish exile living in the USA.  Gulen directs branches of his form of Islamic education in many parts of the world, especially in Central Asia. The U.S. Department of State described Fethullah Gulen as, “a ‘radical Islamist’ whose moderate message cloaks a more sinister and radical agenda.”   Gulen is reputed to be worth roughly $25 billion.  As the proprietor of the largest network of charter schools in the United States, he and his organization receive hundreds of millions of taxpayers’dollars for their tax exempt non-profit organization.

According to the FBI and state and local law enforcement reports, the Gulen movement, in collusion with various nonprofit organizations and companies directly linked to Gulen are playing a sort of shell game with taxpayer funds.  The Gulen schools pay high rental fees on properties owned by Gulen, construction and renovations of Gulen facilities are performed by affiliated Gulen businesses and huge sums of money are spent on facilitating the easy entry of young Turkish, military aged males into the United States. 

Deeper investigation reveals Gulen is an Islamist who plans to transform the United States and many other countries (if not the entire world) into shariah states and part of the umaah (the community of Islam), the worldwide caliphate.

While Gulen is not yet furnishing militant training or directly aligning with ISIS/Daesh, the Taliban, the Muslim Brotherhood or other known terrorist groups, he is deliberately targeting and infiltrating countries through their children and swaying allegiance in Gulen schools to his worldwide shariah law, strict Islamist viewpoint.  This is concerning as it is one of the ‘steps on the ladder’ to a worldwide Islamic caliphate, to conducting jihad-holy war- and to promoting the mentality of’ holy warriors’ to wage a religiously justifiable holy war.

Holy Warriors, Jihad and the Madrassa

One way this movement escalates is through the expansion of madrassas or schools which teach, indoctrinate, inculcate, train and trade their version of ‘holy warriors’.

“The US organized the Afghan Jihad and that informed its central objective:  to unite a billion Muslims worldwide in a holy war, a crusade, against the Soviet Union, on the soil of Afghanistan.  The Saudi government also played an important role in funding the training of the jihadis. The CIA employed a clever ploy in integrating the teachings of Islam with guerilla warfare. Over 2 billion dollars in addition to the income generated from the opium trade promoted by the CIA, was injected into a program of militant Islam.  These schools were taught by trainers from the extreme sects of Wahabism from Saudi Arabia and Deobandi Islam from Pakistan.  The CIA funneled weapons to the Afghan mujahedeen through Pakistan’s ISI (intelligence service).  [ Puniyani, Ram Deconstructing Terrorist Violence:  Faith as a Mask, Sage Publications Ltd. New Delhi, India 2015, pg. 128]

In the United States the efforts to support mujahedeen were sponsored by government agencies and their contractors, from the US Department of State, the ICA, CIA and USAID.Some of the declassified activities in these countries include: Operation Cyclone, Operation Enduring Presence, Vaccination Drives Programs, Operation Mockingbird, the MYSTIC Program, Operation Greystone, Task Force 21, Operation MIAS and Operation C-Chase.

“It had already been known that in 1989, Mr. Mohammed Ali (Egyptian, also a US Special Forces Green Beret soldier) came to the New York area to train mujahedin on their way to Afghanistan.Mr. Mohamed met the men [mujahedeen recruits] at the Al-Kifah Refugee Centre in Brooklyn's Atlantic Avenue, a place of pivotal importance to Operation Cyclone, the American effort to support the mujahedin. The Al-Kifah Centre and the associated Afghan Refugee Services Inc were raising funds and, crucially, providing recruits for the struggle, with active American assistance.”  []

Partnering with USA funded programs and projects were government and military intelligence from Egypt, Jordan, Libya,India and Pakistan as well as anexus with terror and criminal organizations including: the Muslim Brotherhood,(MB),Harkut-ul-Mujahideen,(HUM), Hamas, the Haqqani Network,(HQN),the TTP, Hezb-i-Islami-Gulbiddin,(HIG)Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT)and Jamaat-e-Islami (JEL) most of whom put their support behind the Taliban and/or Al Qaeda.

“The other end of the pipeline was in Peshawar, where the Services Office co-ordinated the transit of people, equipment and cash to the mujahedin, and to Mr. Gulbiddin Hekmatyar [an Islamist and ferociously militant and anti-communist leader] in particular. The Services Office was run by Abdulla Azzam, [Palestinian man who ran the Peshawar operation] a colleague of, and influence on, Osama bin Laden, and was part of Osama bin Laden's effort to back the mujahedin. Azzam founded the Al-Kifah/MAK in 1984.  This Pakistan-based organization, Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK), or “Services Office” in English, is also known as Al-Kifah, which means ‘struggle’. Branches opened in over 30 US cities, as Muslim-Americans donated millions of dollars to support the Afghan war against the Soviet Union  .Largely out of sight of the world, in training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan, something akin to a radical Islamic Foreign Legion was taking place.”  (Rashid, Ahmed Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, Yale University Press, 2000, pg. 171)

Since the beginning of these movements the ritual of making public “examples” of those children, parents, teachers and other adults who did not cooperate with these groups-who rose up in their villages, districts or regions- was a course of action brutally implemented with the full knowledge and often with authorization from their funding sources.

“The Pakistani’s suggested a Saudi led jihad campaign and the Saudi regime suggested Osama bin Laden to the CIA. The CIA approved, recruited and trained bin Laden and sent him to Afghanistan where he fought ruthlessly and successfully.  In one action Osama bin Laden led his men to attack a mixed (girls and boys) government school and killed all the teachers.   The USA watched this approvingly.”  (Ram Puniyani, Deconstructing Terrorist Violence: Faith as a Mask, 2015)

There are numerous examples of USAID, DOS even NGO programs which misguidedly encouraged rather than deescalated divisive ideologies and violent actions for children to be involved in, or exposed to, during their primary and secondary school years.  The notorious University of Nebraska-Omaha project contracted by USAID, is one.  Initially $6.5 million dollars was granted to publish “The Alphabet of Jihad Literacy”.  Funds were matched by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and printing was done by press companies in Pakistan and transported via contractors in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

USAID dropped funding of many Afghan “education” programs connected with the University of Nebraska-Omaha in 1994. But the textbooks they created, paid for and disseminated, continued to circulate in various versions even after the Taliban seized power in 1996.  Officials said private humanitarian groups paid for continued reprinting during the Taliban years. In 2017, the books remained widely available in schools and shops to the chagrin of international aid workers.

“The pictures [in] the texts are horrendous to school students, but the texts are even much worse,” said Ahmad Fahim Hakim, an Afghan educator who is a program coordinator for Cooperation for Peace and Unity, a Pakistan-based nonprofit. An aid worker in the region reviewed an unrevised 100-page book and counted 43 pages containing violent images or passages, however the books continue to circulate.

 ‘US-sponsored textbooks, which exhort Afghan children to pluck out the eyes of their enemies and cut off their legs, are still widely available in Afghanistan and Pakistan, some in their original form.’  [The Genesis of Global Jihad in Afghanistan, Pervez Hoodbhoy]

The present estimate of madrassas in Afghanistan and Pakistan is over 100,000.  (2017) These madrassas have increased over decades with the support and funding of many Muslim countries and various agencies and departments of the United States government and tax exempt United States organizations.

This type of training is also happening in the United States. There have been numerous reports starting in 2000, coming from the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives –part of the US Department of Justice)-and local law enforcement, that in more than 22 states, land has been bought and used for “jihadi training camps”.

” In 2001, ATF Special Agent Thomas P. Gallagher testified in court that “individuals from the organization are trained in Hancock, N.Y., and if they pass the training in Hancock, N.Y., are then sent to Pakistan for training in paramilitary and survivalist training by Mr. Gilani.”  []

Independent reporters identified a ’Jamaat al Fuqra’ village (a terrorist group) in Texas, USA in 2014.

Retrieved FBI intelligence reports stated that MOA [Muslims of the Americas] possess an infrastructure capable of planning and mounting terrorist campaigns overseas and within the U.S. The documented propensity for violence by this organization supports the belief the leadership of the MOA extols membership to pursue a policy of jihad or holy war against individuals or groups it considers” enemies of Islam”, which includes the U.S. Government.

The FBI also stated that “members of the MOA are encouraged to travel to Pakistan to receive religious and military/terrorist training from Sheikh Mubarik Ali Gilani “, who was the subject of an investigation about Daniel Pearl, the murdered Wall Street Journal journalist held hostage and beheaded in Karachi, Pakistan in February 2002.

The Gulf States connection for Wahabbist influence and funding of ‘youth programs’ which advocate and condone the use of violence to achieve their goals extends in many directions-to Central Asian countries, Europe and North America. Often these connections are not obvious but may be discerned by following the sponsors, knowing their mission statements and reviewing their events and activist engagements.

 “A recent nine-month long program, Black Lives Matter, has been running in the UAE.  It is labeled as the ‘Youth Empowerment Strategy program at Dubai.’ The stated purpose of the program is to “to empower our youth with the knowledge, skills and confidence to conduct themselves with poise and professionalism”.  Given that it is common knowledge Saudi and UAE state groups use educational programs as a way to radicalize youth and infect them with the Wahabbist ideology that breeds terrorism, what exactly is this program BLM is partnering with? More research and demands for clarification from Black Lives Matter is needed to clarify that American youth are not intentionally being exposed to state agents who are radicalizing them.”  [Zero Hedge news, 01/08/2017]


Refugee families are attracted to the housing, schools, medical facilities, and crime-free security that the Taliban or Islamic state groups offer, but their impressionable children are subjected to a daily barrage of jihadist messages in their schools, at the mosques, in the media and on the streets.

Children are first separated from their parents and promised food and shelter if they leave their family homes to join the madrassas. Separation is followed by a complete information blackout: no television, radio, newspapers allowed. Instead, children memorize the Quran in Arabic, understanding nothing but what they are told it says by their teachers, the interpretations distorted to suit the extremists’ own needs and purposes.

“Children trained by the Taliban are basically brainwashed - taught in complete isolation from the outside world in order for them to serve as live ammunition for their war against the ‘infidels,’” explains Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy director of the 2009 film, “Children of the Taliban”.

The teachers then continue brainwashing their charges, teaching them to hate the world they live in. The children are urged to focus on the next world and the ‘reward’ guaranteed them by fighting this “holy” war. These opinions are reiterated by older students, and by videos that demonstrate how collateral damage is not a concern-which is why the life of a civilian should not dominate their ‘holy purpose’ either.

The result is a child who feels he has no choice but to sacrifice himself for the greater cause of the war against the Western occupiers of Afghanistan and the Pakistan Army. At the hands of their trainers, (themselves veterans of jihads in Afghanistan under Soviet rule and Kashmir under Indian occupation), these children become the walking dead, living, according to Obaid-Chinoy, in hope for an afterlife that is more glorious than the one they live in. They are the ghost children. []

“There’s a need to physically and mentally prepare children to be the ‘next generation’ of fighters, said Mia Bloom, terrorism expert at Georgia State University. “It exposes the children to violence in a routine and daily fashion, so it ceases to be shocking and normalizes violence.”

According to a recent article by Robbie Grammer in ‘The Cable’ Foreign Policy Journal, 02/16/2017, - The Islamic State has its own Common Core - with a macabre twist…mobile apps- using IT tools for pathological pedagogy, propaganda and recruitment lures.  These tools have developed over time and extended past the geographical borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“Uzbek-led jihadist groups have become important actors in the Afghanistan and Pakistan insurgencies. The Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) is increasingly involved in attacks in Afghanistan, likely coordinated with the Haqqani network. The IJU releases regular propaganda statements and videos encouraging Central Asians and Turks to join the fighting.  Both the IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) and IJU are competing to showcase their international memberships and their enthusiasm for carrying out suicide bombings. This is probably a reflection of the perceived usefulness recruiting more volunteers to carry out similar attacks, thereby ensuring a steady supply of ideologically committed bombers.”    []

The Afghan and Pakistan practice of having young boys as slaves or ‘dancing boys’also provides the Islamic extremist groups ongoing possibilities for recruitment and conversion.    There are literally thousands of local and national police who keep from one to four bacha (dancing boys) and many will not take up their posts without assurance of a supply of bacha.  Even though the Afghan government passed a law against this child abuse in 2016, but not one case has been brought to court yet and not one investigation, follow up or enforcement from over 1,100 complaints/tips reported.

The Taliban has seen and noted this ‘addiction’ and have used this vice and vulnerability to their advantage.

You can understand how the Taliban, who banned bacha bazi during their 1996-2001 rule, have managed to use these boys to mount insider attacks. A boy who has been tortured as a sex slave is ripe to take revenge on his tormentor. In many cases, killing their abusers is their only escape from servitude.

So, the children are victimized twice -- first as sex slaves by their captors, then as killers by the Taliban.

One way for the Taliban, Al Qaeda, HQN, HIG, ISIS in Khorasan (Afghanistan branch of Daesh)the TTP, and other violent extremist groups to avoid detection and keep their ranks of children anonymous, is to move them around their country of origin and over the borders for training between Pakistan, Afghanistan, and even to other countries such as: Syria, Iraq, Libya, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, UAE, Yemen, Qatar, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and to parts of Europe.

According to Afghan government officials (quoted by the BBC), more than 90 % of juvenile would-be suicide bombers who have been arrested are ‘trained, lied to, and brainwashed or coerced in Pakistan. But there is also evidence of training child soldiers in madrassas in Taliban-controlled parts of Afghanistan.”

“Fighters, both local and international, are recruited from Pakistani madrassas such as the Darul Uloom Haqqania, referred to by some as the “University of Jihad” for its notable alumni, including Taliban leader Mullah Omar and Jalaluddin himself. H.N. fighters hide within plain sight; mosques, bazaars, and madrassas have all served as areas for covert planning and execution of attacks.”    [Dressler, Jeffrey, The Haqqani Network:  A Strategic Threat, Center for the Study of War, March 2012]

Boys under the age of 15 years are called “Cubs of the Caliphate”.  These children are forcibly subjected to specially designed training to create jihad ‘warriors’ willing to die for their cause.

Between the ages of five and 10, boys are enrolled in religious education, learning the Islamic State’s distorted version of Islam , which is taught in order to strengthen their ideology and pass it on to the next generation.  Koran memorization, tawheed (monotheism), salat (prayer) and aqeedah (creed), and a few other subjects such as math are part of the Islamic curriculum. Then they teach them how to carry out terrorist attacks and carry weapons. These children have become like a time bomb, deploying around the world one day.

The horrific ‘graduation’ videos of children performing grisly violent acts are disseminated on jihadi sites via the dark net and even through sites on mainstream media.   These are often used in recruiting advertisements or in reports shared to all ages via phone/text messages/images and video clips. 

“Once boys ‘graduate’ at the age of 15, they are forced to commit a repulsive inaugural act, which has the aim of desensitizing them to violence, while also demonstrating their loyalty to the group and acting as a bonding activity: beheading a prisoner. It is an act that cannot be withdrawn, and it brings the group closer together as they complete the task.” []

Although boys (and girls) are sworn to secrecy, many will return to their villages and boast of the ‘brave acts’ they have seen and committed making them, in effect, recruiters for the Islamic violent extremist groups or criminal networks of which they are affiliates or members.


The Taliban, ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Muslim Brotherhood and other extremist groups relish taking photos and videos of their young recruits and jihadi “cubs”.

This type of evidence in photographs (see below) and on video also serves as evidence these children committed crimes and reinforces the line crossed for these children that there is no return to their previous life or community.

image 2


Children who are ‘chosen’ to carry out ordinance tasks such as planting or clearing explosive devices, transporting illegal substances or becoming a “Shahid” - a martyr through an act such as suicide bombing or on the front-line attack force- have no say in their fate and are celebrated only after their death.  If their parents or family members are living, they will often be included in the propaganda. 

Many of the kidnapped and enslaved families will be forced to surrender their children, who are the first to be used in dangerous missions including as suicide bombers since they are viewed as the most expendable.   They are useful as well since they are not as apt to be stopped or checked due to their age and ethnicity.

“Taliban mullahs in Pakistan are recruiting child suicide bombers as young as nine to blow up NATO targets according to Afghan intelligence officials who have intercepted would-be attackers.”  []

End of Part One


Horgan, John, and Mia Bloom. "This Is How the Islamic State Manufactures Child Militants." VICE News RSS, July 8, 2015

Puniyani,  Ram. Deconstructing Terrorist Violence: Faith as a Mask, 2015

Hoodbhoy, Pervez, “The Genesis of Global Jihad in Afghanistan” paper delivered at Colombia University, New York, New York, November 14-15,2002   JSTOR

Rashid, Ahmed.  Taliban, 2000

Rashid, Ahmed.  Jihad, 2002

Giustozzi, Antonio and Franco, Claudio. “The Ongoing Battle for Schools: Uprisings, Negotiations, and Taleban Tactics” February 2013

Categories: terrorism

About the Author(s)

Joanne Patti Munisteri is an independent field researcher who has worked as a contractor for the US Department of State, IREX, USAID and the US DOD.   She completed training at Ft. Leavenworth as part of the Human Terrain System and has worked with various agencies, organizations and universities in China (2018-2019) Kurdistan, Iraq (2017-2018, 2020) Afghanistan (2014-2017) Pakistan (2010-2011) Ukraine (2015) Russia (2011-2012) Malaysia (2013-2014) Saudi Arabia (2013) Armenia (2008-2010) UAE (2007-2008)  Morocco (2006-2007) and a number of other countries.  She is a graduate of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, (USA) and Massey University (New Zealand). Joanne is also a TCM Health practitioner/Acupuncturist and certified Radio Engineer (NYC).  Her work has been published in the USA, New Zealand, Russia, Australia, Pakistan, Iraq and online.