Terror group Islamic State (Isis) are snatching and brainwashing children as young as nine to conduct suicide bombing missions in the battle for Mosul in Iraq, intelligence officers in the country have warned. Even younger children have been forced to carry out executions in propaganda videos and experts warn that the battle against the group will continue long after it is defeated on the battlefield.
IS (Daesh) have indoctrinated thousands of children – known as the "cubs of the caliphate" – many of them taken by force from their families and brainwashed into subscribing to the group's perverted ideology. Children are often used as suicide bombers, because they are easier to mould to the group's cause and harder for security forces to spot.
In an exclusive interview with Sky News, a 15-year-old boy who was arrested when his bomb failed to go off near a sports stadium in Kirkuk explained how he had been ordered to carry out his deadly mission, even when he realised there were other children in the area.
Speaking in the presence of Kurdish intelligence officers in a juvenile detention facility, Mahmoud Ahmed explained how he had been shown videos of beheadings and told he would go to heaven when he died.
"They taught us how to use a Kalashnikov and a PKC machine gun and then transferred us to Hawija [in Northern Iraq]," Ahmed told Sky's Alex Rossi. "There were four older men who would teach us about heaven and stuff like that. Twenty-four hours a day they'd teach us about this stuff. They would scare us and would show videos of beheadings and stuff like that."
Ahmed was taken to Kirkuk, where earlier the same day two IS suicide bombers had completed their task. When he reached his target, he saw there were children and realised they might be killed.
"When I reached the target I knew it was wrong," he said, as Kurdish intelligence officers watched. "When I saw the young kids, I knew it was wrong immediately. I returned back to him [my handler] but he said, 'Go straight back'. I told him no and he said 'This is an order from Abu Islam [an IS commander]'. I returned back around the stadium and they caught me."
Ahmed now faces a lengthy prison sentence, but he is alive. IS are thought to be training thousands like him to carry out suicide missions, and the Kurdish intelligence agency warns that many will later return to Europe and other countries and continue to pose a serious risk unless a de-radicalisation strategy is put in place.
"A lot of these people [in Isis] come from other parts of the world," says Lahur Talabany, director of the Kurdish Zanyari Agency, "and they've been exposed to this war for the past two and a half years. Some of these people will eventually escape and will get away, and will go back to those countries and will take these sorts of ideas and ideologies back, so the problem will not end there I think."