Militants with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria kidnapped 140 teenage boys to use for terrorist operations including suicide bombings, according to a Syrian monitoring group.
CNN spoke to one of five boys who escaped his ISIS captors and published details of his harrowing account on Thursday.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Kurdish boys, between the ages of 14 and 16, were kidnapped on the road between Aleppo and Manbij when they were on their way home from taking their final exams last month.
Those who escaped told their parents that ISIS began immediately indoctrinating them with “lessons of jihad and fighting the enemies of Allah and apostates,” the monitoring group said.
CNN spoke to 15-year-old Mohammed, one of the escapees, who recounted a harrowing experience that began the day that armed ISIS militants stopped their bus on the road, separated the boys from the girls and then took only the boys away.
The teenager described what life was like under ISIS’ strong arm, which included enduring hours of lessons in hardline Islamic theology and being forced to watch videos of beheadings as an introduction to the world of jihad:
The boy recalled their first morning in captivity, which began at a mosque in Manbij. “If you try to leave,” the militants said, according to Mohammed, “we will cut your heads off.”
ISIS issued blankets and assigned a single room for every 17 boys to share. Almost immediately the radical schooling began, Mohammed says.
Every day, local sheiks woke the boys up at dawn for prayer then held the students for several hours of Sharia lessons, said Mohammed. At night, ISIS fighters spent about five hours preaching jihad and showing graphic videos of executions and suicide operations.
He also described his daring escape with the help of friends:
After five days in captivity, Mohammed and a friend asked their classmates to create a diversion. The boys slipped out a back door, climbed a fence and started running to safety.
The pair went from shop to shop, asking for help, but several locals, frightened by possible retaliation, turned the teenagers away. One resident gave the boys money to take public transportation to the border town of Jarablus, where they contacted their families from an Internet cafe.
“I was so happy when I got home. My mother had no idea that I had escaped. I was so excited to see her,” says Mohammed. He says he is now wanted for fleeing and fears he will be executed if ISIS captures him.
ISIS, which aims to establish a caliphate in Iraq, Syria and beyond, has given children as young as age 15 weapons training and has instructed them to carry out suicide bombings, according to a Human Rights Watch report published this week, which said that other groups fighting in Syria have also used children in their ranks.
“The horrors of Syria’s armed conflict are only made worse by throwing children into the front lines,” report author Priyanka Motaparthy said.
“All my friends are taken. I feel I cannot smile. My whole life and all my days were with my classmates and now there is nothing,” said Mohammed who would provide only his first name fearing for his safety.