The image of a very young, caucasian child killing a prisoner for Islamic State in a firing squad-style execution has sparked a predictable outpouring of uproar and concern.
Yet, while the child’s gunshot was heard round the world, it is by no means the end of the story.
The execution is actually part of a series of barbaric murderers, all filmed by Isis, produced by the Wilayat Ninawa militant group. The third part of the series, the most recent, shows the executions of three different groups of hostages all accused of being “spies", comprising a total of 16 people. And the tiny blonde executioner is just one of three children seen in the footage.
The first group of hostages, comprising eight people, is seen in a cage with the caucasian child and an adult in close attendance. The group are then taken out of their cage and beheaded, with the tiny caucasian child, who could be as young as four, watching on.
The six prisoners in the second group are shot in the back of the head by a team of executioners featuring two different, never-before-seen boys who could be between eight and 10 years old.
The Caucasian child does not take centre-stage until the final execution, which involves two more so-called spies. The youthful executioner is helped by the adult to hold the gun for the execution, and the adult helps him cock the bullet into the chamber.
The video is accompanied with an incantation of the Qu’ranic verse 17:8: “[Then God said], “It is expected, [if you repent], that your Lord will have mercy upon you. But if you return [to sin], We will return [to punishment]. And We have made Hell, for the disbelievers, a prison-bed.”
Each of the three-part series was filmed in Ninawa in northern Iraq. The executions become increasingly brutal and outlandish as the series goes on, and several familiar visual tropes are used – notably the cages which have been used to drown prisoners in previous videos (seen below).
Some of the features may also seem bitterly ironic to a Western audience. In fact the second group of prisoners is marched out of a convoy of what appears to be brand-new Kia K900, a full-sized 2015 sedan vehicle, which retail for around $54,000. Apparently luxury cars are allowed in the Medieval caliphate.
In March 2015, London based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that within the first three months of 2015 the Islamic State had recruited over 400 child soldiers.
TRAC has observed and monitored many training facilities for children, some of the most important being in Raqqa at the ‘Al-Farouq Institute for Cubs’ camp as well as Sheikh Abu Ibrahim al-Zaidi Camp.
Some foreign fighter males bring their entire families including small children, while teens are more likely to have been recruited on-line and traved to the Caliphate by themselves.
Daniel Lebowitz is a Research Associate and Video Curator for TRAC: Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium (TRAC), one of the world's largest electronic compendiums for data and analysis of terrorist groups, activities, trends and up to date developments. For complete information see www.trackingterrorism.org and follow the group on Twitter @TRACterrorism.