The Islamic extremist group Boko Haram has kidnapped 10,000 boys over the past three years and turned them into jihadist soldiers, threatening to kill those who refused to comply with their demands, a disturbing new report has revealed.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Nigerian terrorist group took over the city of Damask and took about 300 students between the ages of 7 and 17, moving them to a forest outside of city limits.
There, the children were imprisoned and ordered to learn the Quran within the first few months, Then, they were forced into a boot camp where boys as young as 5 would practice marching and handling assault rifles. Their instructor was only 15.
"I was terrified if I didn't do it, they would kill me," one teen who escaped the terrorist group told the WSJ.
"What is happening here in northeastern Nigeria is part of a disturbing rise in child jihadism. Young boys and at times girls are being indoctrinated into violent fundamentalism and used as fighters, suicide bombers and spies," reads the report.
Drew Hinshaw, the author of the disturbing report, later told PBS that many of the children are effectively radicalized by the terrorist group.
"[Even] if they're coming as radicals, they have no idea what they're doing," he said. "They're victims as much as they're perpetrators. Some of them are guilty of heinous things - rape, murder, killing- all kinds of horrible things. And yet, they're also victims. They're also kids plucked out of villages forced into a cult, forced to watch beheadings, with all kinds of indoctrination, beaten, starved, and at some point, they convert."
Established in 2002, Boko Haram initially focused on opposing Western-style education. However, under the leadership of al-Barnawi, the terrorist group became more radical, carried out more killings and swore allegiance to ISIS in March 2015. Today, Boko Haram refers to itself as IS' "West African province".
Over the past seven years, the group has killed more than 20,000 people and drove more than 2.2 million from their homes in an effort to set up an Islamic state in the north. The extremists still stage suicide bombings in northeast Nigeria and neighboring Cameroon, Niger and Chad. In July, it was revealed that just under a quarter of a million children in Nigeria's northeastern state of Borno suffer from life-threatening malnourishment due to the group's disruption of trade and healthcare.
Earlier this month, Boko Haram released a video showing about 50 of the 270 Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped just over two years ago. In the video published by the militants on social media, a masked man stands behind a group of the girls, and says some of their classmates have been killed in airstrikes, while others have been married off to fighters.
One young woman who was rescued in May near Damboa in Borno state by soldiers and a civilian vigilante group, revealed that her classmates were starved and resorted to eating raw maize, and that some had died in captivity, suffered broken legs or gone deaf after being too close to explosions.
However, she expressed hope that the other girls would soon be rescued, and gave God the glory for her freedom.
"I think about them a lot - I would tell them to be hopeful and prayerful," she said. "In the same way God rescued me, he will also rescue them."
She added, "I am not scared of Boko Haram - they are not my God."