Islamic State captured, beat Kurdish boys in Syria, rights group says

The Islamic State militant group kidnapped and tortured dozens of boys in Syria this year, beating them with hoses or electrical cables and forcing them to watch videos of beheadings and combat, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.

The youths, ages 14 to 16, were held for months and beaten if they tried to escape, performed poorly during compulsory religious lessons or had a relative in the YPG, a Syrian-Kurdish militia known as the Popular Protection Units, which has fought the Islamic State, according the rights group.

In May, about 250 Kurdish students were stopped by the Islamic State as they traveled from Aleppo to their homes in Kobani in northern Syria after taking middle school exams. All the girls, about 100 of them, were released within hours but the boys were held in the town of Manbij.

Between June and September, about 50 of the boys either escaped or were released in a prisoner exchange for Islamic State fighters held by the YPG. In late September, another 75 youths were released and the remaining 25 were let go last week, the rights group said.

Boys interviewed by the rights group said they were given no explanation for their release except that they had completed their religious training. Before their release, the children were given the equivalent of a dollar and a religious DVD.

Kobani has been the site of clashes for more than six weeks as the Islamic State has tried to capture the Kurdish town and widen the group’s territory as part of its self-proclaimed caliphate across Syria and Iraq. Kurdish and Free Syrian Army fighters have been defending the besieged city while backed by U.S.-led airstrikes, weapons resupply and most recently a small contingent of Kurdish soldiers from neighboring Iraq.

Four of the boys who said they were held by Islamic State gave the rights group detailed accounts of the treatment they and the other boys received during their captivity.

“Since the beginning of the Syrian uprising, children have suffered the horrors of detention and torture, first by the Assad government and now by ISIS,” said Fred Abrahams, special adviser for children’s rights at New York-based Human Rights Watch, using an acronym for Islamic State.

One 16-year-old boy described being beaten with hoses or cables on the soles of their feet and placed inside a tire and beaten – a technique common within the prisons of the Syrian government.

“They sometimes found excuses to beat us for no reason,” he told the rights group. “They made us learn verses of the Quran and beat those who didn’t manage to learn them. When some boys tried to escape, the treatment got worse and we were all punished and given less food.”

The boys were allowed occasional visits or phone calls from their parents.

The rights group reported that Islamic State is still holding other children and adults abducted near Kobani. Taking hostages has been a common practice by the extremist group since it began its operations in Syria last year and has included dozens of Syrian media activists, rebels from rival groups and most recently scores of women from the Yazidi faith in Iraq.

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