Gweyr, Iraq (CNN)”Nasir” is one of the lucky ones. He managed to escape from the grasp of ISIS, which was training him to be a suicide bomber. He is just 12 years old.
The boy is now reunited with his mother at the Esyan refugee camp in Kurdistan, home to almost 15,000 Yazidis fleeing ISIS. He’s asked CNN not to broadcast his face or voice, or to disclose his real name.
“There were 60 of us,” Nasir says. “The scariest times for us all were when the airstrikes happened. They’d lead all of us underground into the tunnels to hide. They told us the Americans, the unbelievers, were trying to kill us but they, the fighters, they loved us. They would look after us better than our parents.
“When they were training us they would tell us our parents were unbelievers and that our first job was to go back to kill them.”
The use by ISIS of child soldiers has been well documented. Last week, for example, a new propaganda video was released featuring an English-speaking child. But the reality behind the headlines is even more horrifying.
‘I’d cry quietly’
The indoctrination that Nasir received was similar to that which all captive children like him had to undergo. His ISIS handlers would tell him they were now his only family.
Nasir says the youngest of the boys was just 5 years old — and none of them was exempt from the grueling training carried out by the so-called “cubs of the caliphate.”
ISIS videos show children training to kill
ISIS videos show children training to kill 03:16
“We weren’t allowed to cry but I would think about my mother, think about her worrying about me and I’d try and cry quietly. When we escaped and I saw my mother again, it was like coming back to life.”
Nasir, who is now back at school, escaped after he was featured in a propaganda video made at the Al Farouq Institute in Raqqa, Syria, which ISIS claims is their main child soldier training facility.
In the film, spread out on either side of an ISIS trainer, blank-faced rows of children sit in a line.
One boy shakes visibly. Others are unable to raise their gaze. “To jihad to jihad,” they chant.
And “By god’s grace,” the instructor says, “in the coming days, they will be at the front lines of the fight against the non-believers.”