Friday, 11 July 2014
More than 150 Syrian students kidnapped by ISIS
The Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) has allegedly abducted between 153 and 186 boys aged 13-16 in the Aleppo region of northern Syria. Although largely unreported by conventional media outlets, bar brief reports in The Guardian and VICE News, it appears that ISIS has perhaps been influenced by Boko Haram’s April kidnapping of more than 300 schoolgirls from Chibok in north-east Nigeria.
Reports have recently surfaced that on 29 May 2014 a convoy of ten minibuses successfully completed the perilous 110 km journey from Ain al-`Arab (Kobani in Kurdish), on the Turkish border, to Aleppo to sit their end-of-year-exams as required by Syria’s educational system. The returning convoy was intercepted and redirected to an ISIS-controlled Islamic school in Minbej, just 66 km from Kobani, where the vast majority of the boys have remained. The primary source of what has been reported is Mustafa Hussan, one of five boys who managed to escape four days after the initial abduction.
Hussan reports that, although the food was good, many boys were beaten by their international ISIS captors: ‘I saw a lot of Russians, Chechens, Libyans, some Saudi Arabians and Syrians too.’ Forced to undergo lessons in Islamic Shar’ia ideology and training in jihad, the boys were threatened with beheading if they attempted to escape. In spite of this, Hussan and four fellow students managed to escape via a roof under the pretence of raising a flag while their classmates distracted their religious teacher. Hassan stated that once they had escaped they were aided in their journey home by sympathetic locals.
Since their escape, unconfirmed rumours have surfaced that a further 15 students were traded for three ISIS combatants being held by Kurdish forces. What is certain, however, is that the longer the situation remains, the more difficult it will be to extract the students. Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has pledged its support to Kobani but the situation is complicated by the fact that ISIS has been carrying out deadly attacks on the city and surrounding villages since 2 July with weapons captured in Mosul. One attack, at Sheyoh, saw the execution of 24 Kurds, including two children.
Within the majority Kurdish city there is little faith that anyone outside of Kobani will help. According to a 2013 estimate by the Syrian Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), over 85% of the total population of 44, 821 is Kurdish, with small Arab (5%), Turkomen ( 5%) and Armenian (1%) minorities. The city itself is accustomed to both violence and its status as a minority stronghold. Founded in 1915 by Armenians fleeing genocide in Anatolia, who mostly emigrated to the Soviet Union in the 1960s, part of the city fell foul of the demarcation of the Syrian and Turkish border and has been assimilated into the Turkish city of Suruç.
The vast majority of Kurds, following the principal of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”, supported Syria’s minority Shi’a Alawite regime, believing that if the country were governed by the majority Sunni populace the Kurds would themselves be further ostracised and persecuted. In addition to what is taking place in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, which is proving a stumbling block to ISIS’ unrealistic attempts to form an Islamic Caliphate stretching from the Gulf to the Atlantic, the Syrian Kurdish allegiance to the regime has seen them become a target for sustained siege and, now, kidnapping and executions.
While the precise facts of what has happened remain unverified, what has crystallised is ISIS’ willingness to kidnap and enlist children in armed conflict, considered war crimes under International Humanitarian Law, to achieve its aims.
For more news and expert analysis about Iraq, please see Iraq Focus.
© 2014 Menas Associates