ISIS might be ceding territory in the Middle East, but it hasn't given up the battle for hearts and minds.
The terrorist group is playing a long game, working aggressively to indoctrinate children under its control to groom the next generation of jihadis in its image.
While other terrorist groups around the world have also used children, new reports reveal the unprecedented system ISIS has created to raise the next generation of terrorists.
German newspaper Der Spiegel talked to several children who explained how ISIS, also referred to as IS or the Islamic State, methodically brainwashes kids to ensure that even if its territory is wiped out, it'll still have a loyal band of followers keeping the group alive.
Der Spiegel explained this strategy, as Nikita Malik of the Quilliam Foundation, a think tank that analyzes ISIS propaganda, understands it:
By depicting children, says Malik, IS wanted to show that it was relatively unimpressed by bombs. IS' message, she explains, is this: 'No matter what you do, we are raising a radicalized generation here.' Within the system, says Malik, the children's task was to spread IS ideology in the long term, and to infiltrate society so deeply and lastingly that supporters would continue to exist, even if territory was lost.
Some children living under ISIS control are sent to military camps, and some are sent to schools.
They're taught how to pray and use weapons, desensitized to violence, and given drugs to make them more susceptible to whatever ISIS wants them to believe.
A new report from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy details ISIS' system of exposing children to its radical ideology.
"Stating that the Islamic State promotes religious extremism is far from sufficient in understanding what it seeks to achieve, much less what it teaches its students," the report noted, stating that the terrorist group is creating a "fighter generation committed to IS' cause" in a way that's "both specific and unprecedented."
ISIS has created its own textbooks filled entirely with material that caters to its radical ideology. Weapons are used to illustrate math problems for young kids, and chapters dealing with Western governments focus on "explaining why each is a form of idolatry because of its violation of God's sovereignty," according to the report.
"It is instilling very young children with … Islamism, jihadism, and it's something that's going to stick around for a long, long time," Charlie Winter, an expert on ISIS propaganda and senior researcher for Georgia State University, told Business Insider earlier this year. "It's an elephant in the room that isn't being given enough scrutiny."
Der Spiegel summarizes how the indoctrination process works:
The recruitment of children takes place in several phases, beginning with harmless socialization. Islamic State hosts events in which children are given sweets and little boys are allowed to hold an IS flag. Then they are shown videos filled with violence. Later, in the free schools IS uses to promote the movement, they learn Islamic knowledge and practice counting and arithmetic with books that use depictions of tanks. They practice beheading with blond dolls dressed in orange jumpsuits. With a new app developed by IS, they learn to sing songs that call upon people to engage in jihad.
ISIS supports this brainwashing with ideological justifications for its worldview, claiming God has given ISIS the authority to punish unbelievers.
An introduction printed in its textbooks reads:
The Islamic State carries the burdens — with the agreement of God almighty — of refuting [nonbelievers] and bringing them to a renewed monotheism and a wide Islamic expanse under the flag of the rightly guided caliphate and its outstretched branches after it won over the devils and their lowlands of ignorance and its people of destruction.
Now that ISIS is losing territory in Iraq and Syria, it's shifting to insurgency tactics similar to what Al Qaeda in Iraq, ISIS' predecessor, did during the Iraq War. Bombings and terrorist attacks maintain the sense that ISIS is omnipresent even when militarily the group is losing.
And the kids ISIS is indoctrinating now will remain even after the terrorists have lost the cities and towns they once controlled.
"This is a political problem that will last well beyond the existence of the group," Winter said. "Even if all the leaders are killed and [ISIS] suddenly disintegrates … there would be lots and lots of these children who have known nothing other than jihadist warfare, who have been taught that Shias need to be killed at all costs, that there's a global conspiracy against them and the only way they can survive in life is by killing people who are their enemies and not really questioning whether they should be doing it."