Two young boys stand in front of a column of adult fighters clad in all black, one boy attempting to look as serious as his baby-face will allow, the other absentmindedly fiddling with the black flag of jihad he holds in front of him.
The first boy begins an earnest half-chant, half-song in Arabic as a man toting a machine gun and draped in bullets stands just off to the boy’s left. When the boy is finished, both children and the men standing behind them yell, “Allahu Akbar!”
The striking images come from a video recently posted online that purports to show a training camp in Syria named after al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri for fighters from the al Qaeda-affiliated Al Nusra Front. While the video provides few confirmable details, a U.S. counter-terrorism official told ABC News similar videos have appeared before and there is little reason to doubt its authenticity.
In another portion of the video, the children stand in the middle of an open training ground and watch as recruits dive through hoops of fire, the man with the machine gun close by. The children are not shown holding weapons.
The counter-terrorism official said children have appeared in other videos made by “terrorist groups” as well, but as of yet, the groups “do not seem to have used children operationally.”
However, in November, Human Rights Watch reported that some rebel groups have used children “as young as 14″ to transport supplies and act as lookouts.
A United Nations report from late January, stated, “Armed opposition groups have been responsible for the recruitment and use of children both in combat and support roles, as well as for conducting military operations, including using terror tactics, in civilian-populated areas, leading to civilian casualties, including children.”
Boys as young as 12 years old, the report said, have been “trained, armed and used as combatants or to man checkpoints.” The report said no information about the Syrian government’s use of children in the conflict was available.