Last letters : From Mosul schoolboys to
Islamic State 'martyrs'
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[February 27, 2017]
By Stephen Kalin
MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) - "My dear family,
please forgive me," reads the handwritten letter discarded in the dusty
halls of an Islamic State training compound in eastern Mosul.
"Don't be sad and don't wear the black clothes (of mourning). I asked to
get married and you did not marry me off. So, by God, I will marry the
72 virgins in paradise."
They were schoolboy Alaa Abd al-Akeedi's parting words before he set off
from the compound to end his life in a suicide bomb attack against Iraqi
security forces last year.
The letter was written on an Islamic State form marked "Soldiers'
Department, Martyrs' Brigade" and in an envelope addressed to his
parents' home in western Mosul.
Akeedi, aged 15 or 16 when he signed up, was one of dozens of young
recruits who passed through the training facility in the past 2-1/2
years as they prepared to wage jihad. In several cases this involved
carrying out suicide attacks - Islamic State's most effective weapon
against a U.S.-backed military campaign to retake the group's last major
urban bastion in Iraq.
His letter never reached his family. It was left behind with a handful
of other bombers' notes to relatives when Islamic State abandoned the
facility in the face of an army offensive that has reclaimed more than
half of the city since October.
The militants also left a handwritten registry containing the personal
details of about 50 recruits. Not all entries had years of birth, and
only about a dozen had photographs attached, but many recruits were in
their teens or early 20s.
These documents, found by Reuters on a trip into eastern Mosul after the
army recaptured that area, include some of the first first-hand accounts
from Islamic State's suicide bombers to be made public and offer an
insight into the mindset of young recruits prepared to die for Islamic
State's ultra-hardline ideology.
Reuters interviewed relatives of three of the fighters including Akeedi
to help determine where they came from and why they chose jihad. In rare
testimonies by families of Islamic State suicide bombers, they told of
teenagers who joined the jihadists to their dismay and bewilderment, and
died within months.
Reuters could not independently verify the information about other
recruits in the registry. Islamic State does not make itself available
to independent media outlets so could not be contacted for comment on
the letters, the registry or the phenomenon of teenage suicide bombers.
'BROTHER JIHADI, RESPECT QUIET'
Islamic State has attracted thousands of young recruits in Mosul - by
far the biggest city in the caliphate it declared in 2014 over territory
it seized in Iraq and Syria. The group has carried out hundreds of
suicide attacks in the Middle East and plotted or inspired dozens of
attacks in the West.
The training compound visited by Reuters consisted of three villas
confiscated from Mosul residents. Man-sized holes knocked through
exterior walls allowed easy access between the villas.
Lower floors were littered with IS posters and pamphlets on topics
ranging from religion to weaponry, as well as tests on warfare and the
Koran. Green paint and bed sheets on the windows obscured the view from
outside and gave the rooms an eerie glow.
Flak jackets and body-shaped shooting targets filled one room, while
medicines and syringes were scattered around another that appeared to
have served as a clinic.
The rooms upstairs were packed full of bunk beds with space for almost
100 people. Printed signs outlined strict house rules. One ordered:
"Brother jihadi, respect quiet and cleanliness".
Most of the recruits listed in the registry were Iraqi but there were a
few from the United States, Iran, Morocco and India. Akeedi's entry says
he pledged allegiance on Dec. 1, 2014, a few months after the jihadists
A relative told Reuters by phone that Akeedi's father was deeply
distressed by his son's decision but feared punishment if he tried to
remove him from Islamic State's ranks. Reuters was unable to contact his
Akeedi rarely visited his family after joining the jihadists. On his
last trip home he told his father he was going to carry out a suicide
attack in Baiji, an oil refinery town south of Mosul where the militants
had been fighting off repeated offensives by the Iraqi military.
[to top of second column]
The ID card/childhood photo of teenage Islamic State militant Atheer
Ali is seen in Mosul, Iraq, February 4, 2017. Picture taken February
4, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Kalin
"He told his father, 'I am going to seek martyrdom,'" said the
relative, who declined to be named because he feared reprisals from
Islamic State or from Iraqi forces preparing to storm the area.
A few months later, Akeedi's family was told by the militants that
he had succeeded.
Another recruit of the same age, Atheer Ali, is listed in the
registry beside a passport-sized photo showing a boy with bushy
eyebrows and large brown eyes. He wears a dark collar-less tunic, a
brown head covering and a cautious smile.
His father, Abu Amir, told Reuters his son had been an outstanding
student who excelled in science and was always watching the National
Geographic TV channel. He loved to swim and fish in a nearby river
and would help out on his uncle's vegetable farm after school.
TOO YOUNG FOR FACIAL HAIR
Ali was shy and slim, lacking a fighter's mentality or build, Abu
Amir said in an interview at his eastern Mosul home, sifting through
So the father was horrified when one day in early 2015 Ali didn't
come home from school but ran off with seven classmates to join
When Abu Amir went to the militants' offices across the city to
track down his son, they threatened to jail him.
He never saw his son alive again.
A few months later, three Islamic State fighters pulled up at Abu
Amir's house in a pickup truck and handed him a scrap of paper with
his son's name on it. He was dead.
Abu Amir retrieved Ali's body from the morgue. His hair had grown
long but he was still too young for facial hair. Shrapnel was lodged
in his arms and chest.
He said the fighters told him he had been hit by an air strike on a
mortar position in Bashiqa, northeast of Mosul. They described him
as a "hero".
Gathered in the family sitting room, Ali's relatives said he was
brainwashed. Many of his school friends fled Mosul after the
militants took control and Ali fell in with a new crowd, but his
family never noticed a change in his behavior.
"Even now I'm still astounded. I don't know how they convinced him
to join," said Abu Amir. "I'm just glad we could bury him and put
this whole thing to rest."
'HIS MIND WAS FRAGILE'
Sheet Omar was also 15 or 16 years old when he joined Islamic State
in August 2014, weeks after the group captured Mosul. Next to his
registry entry is the fatal addendum: "Conducted martyrdom
Shalal Younis, Omar's sister's father-in-law, confirmed he had died
carrying out a suicide attack, though he was uncertain about the
He said the teenager, from the Intisar district of eastern Mosul,
had been overweight and insecure and joined the jihadists after his
"His mind was fragile and they took advantage of that, promising him
virgins and lecturing him about being a good Muslim," said Younis.
"If someone had tempted him with drugs and alcohol, he probably
would have done that instead."
(Editing by Pravin Char)
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