One of the Islamic State's "media points" in Mosul, that attracts civilians to the extremist cause.
A teenager receiving treatment for a serious infection in a Mosul hospital recently spoke to visitors about how he became ill. It turned out that for the past three months he had been living in a basement with many other young men, training to become a suicide bomber or a fighter for the extremist group known as the Islamic State, who currently control the city. NIQASH met the boy and was able to hold several conversations with him in private, during which he outlined why he, like many other young Mosul men, had joined the extremist group - and why he was still thinking about committing suicide in the name of the group.
“Every day I would play football on the long road leading to a nearby playground by my house in Mansour [a neighbourhood in Mosul]. But one day I changed the way I normally went and I passed by one of Daesh’s “Media Points” [These are places where the Islamic State group try to promote their ideology, attracting fighters and supporters from among the civilian populace in areas they occupy]. I could hear loud noises so I went closer and when I got there I found crowds of people watching the large screens inside a small house, that had been built at the entrance to the neighbourhood several months ago.”
“Everyone was watching a film of a battle between the Caliphate’s soldiers and the Iraqi army. There were suicide bombers and mortars going off. The scene peaked with Daesh’s occupation of the area they were fighting for and the raising of Daesh’s flag on buildings and around the streets. It was an action movie! There was so much excitement. But it was all real.”
“The film finished but the screenings didn’t. They play movies here about ten hours every day and before I left, one of the Daesh members at the Media Point gave out CDs with other battle films and videos of executions of infidels and secret agents. He also gave out some leaflets calling for jihad [holy war].”
“I was fascinated by what I had seen and I started going to the Media Point more often. I started downloading jihadi songs and speeches by [IS group leader] al-Baghdadi and [IS group spokesperson] al-Adnani onto my smart phone. I was just so impressed by the victories and the heroism of Daesh’s army and eventually I told the guys at the Media Point that I wanted to volunteer and join them. They directed me to the nearest mosque so I went there and registered my name. I was given a date for when I was supposed to join their army.”
“At noon on that day, I kissed my mother goodbye – she was alone in our house. She didn’t know it was the last time we might hug.”
“I arrived at the mosque and there were two other boys around my age who also arrived at the same time, just before me. Two armed men took us to a small bus and when we were seated they blindfolded us. We couldn’t see anything until we got to a house. Then they took us down into a basement.”
“I was pretty scared there. And I was confused. I didn’t talk to anybody in the basement and my hands were shaking. I remember saying to myself: Why are you here, you crazy idiot?”
“After about half an hour an older man with a long, gray beard came in. He greeted us all, and shook our hands; he shook my hand and smiled, saying, “here comes the hero”. Those few words calmed me down a lot. I felt better.”
“We sat down around the man and he asked us our ages. There were 24 of us and we were all aged between 12 and 17.”
“He introduced himself. ‘I am your brother, Abu Abdallah. I spent ten years of my life with the Republican Guard during Saddam Hussein’s time. I participated in the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and saw with my own eyes how the Iraqi army oppressed the Kuwaiti people, and what the infidel Shiites did. These ugly practices continued after 2003. In fact, they got worse. That is why we kill the army and members of the Iraqi police’.”
“Abu Abdallah spent a month with us and he taught us about religion, holy war and other things for eight hours a day. Around him we all felt like we were strong men, confident. He used to tell us how we would fight for the Islamic State’s victory and how we would go to heaven where we would find delicious food, beautiful women and wine and ‘everything you crave’.”
“He also supervised our military training which was harsh. Out in the forests of Mosul we learned about guns, explosive belts and bombs and how to drive cars and motorbikes. Whenever we would return back to the house we were living in, we would be blindfolded again so we wouldn’t ever be able to reveal the location. Abu Abdallah told us it used to belong to a Christian family.”
“The hunger was the worst thing. It used to make us cry. They would only give us a few dates, some bread and water. But Abu Abdallah encouraged us to accept the hunger because it taught us patience and made us more tolerant. In this way, he said, ‘we would become worthy of jihad’.”
“There was no toilet in the basement and we usually had to wait until the end of the day to be allowed to use the only bathroom in the house, on the first floor. If anyone pissed their pants, they were punished. This did happen. During the three months we were there, we only washed properly three times. We all smelt like rats.”
“Because of the conditions in the basement I actually got this really bad infection in my kidneys and intestines and I had to start coming to hospital for treatment. I am still getting treatment now. If God had given me just a little more strength though, I would be in heaven now. With Firas.”
“Firas was my best friend in the basement even though he was the youngest there. He was 12 years old and he told me his father was dead. He left his mother to join the Islamic State and he never returned to her because he was chosen, together with ten other boys, to undertake a suicide bombing straight after training. None of those boys were supposed to go back to their families.”
“He was the first to raise his hand when Abu Abdallah asked us: ‘who wants to go home? And who wants to travel straight from this basement to heaven?’”
“I cried when Firas left, I was so sad that I wouldn’t ever see him again. I think even Abu Abdallah was sad. When Firas left, Abu Abdallah stroked his shoulder and hugged him – he did the same with the nine other boys. He said: ‘Goodbye my sons, we will meet again in Paradise’.”
At this stage, the teenager stopped speaking. He got out his phone and began flicking through pictures of his friend, Firas, as well as pictures of al-Baghdadi. The young man began to cry a little bit and then he looked at his brother, who had come to stay with him in hospital. “If God wishes, when I get well again, I will follow Firas,” he said.