The Paradise Boys: The Internal Debate over the Use of Child Jihadis in Iraq

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 5 Issue: 24

Concerned about the future of al-Qaeda in Iraq due to the killing and arrests of its prominent leaders, jihadi forum participants have discussed the second generation of al-Qaeda (, June 7). In the same context, other forum chatters discussed al-Qaeda’s recruitment of young children as part of a possible long-term drive to replace dead and arrested jihadis in Iraq (, May 27).

A jihadi forum chatter, nicknamed “Saif al-Umma,” raised the alarm about the apostasy of many Sunnis who had deviated from the path of jihad in Iraq, consequently paving the way for the establishment of the Sunni “Awakening councils” and the deployment of Iraqi security forces in significant parts of Iraq. The first generation of al-Qaeda, who fought for the last five years, were killed, arrested or compromised. Those remaining are closely watched by U.S. forces, making it difficult for them to participate in further insurgent operations. Therefore, the second generation of al-Qaeda, unknown to security forces, has had to fill in the gap and revert to smaller operations rather than full scale military strikes. “This doesn’t mean that the first generation of al-Qaeda has failed; on the contrary, al-Qaeda achieved important successes. At some point, the first generation of al-Qaeda in Iraq controlled almost all Sunni territories in Iraq,” says al-Umma. The so-called Islamic State of Iraq (ISI, an umbrella group of Salafi-Jihadi groups in Iraq, including al-Qaeda) had several active ministries, other than the Ministry of War led by Abu Ayyub al-Masri (a.k.a. Abu Hamza al-Muhajir), each working on establishing the second generation of al-Qaeda and preparing potential future jihadi scenarios.

Implying that he belongs to the second generation of al-Qaeda, al-Umma relates: “Once I was helping one of al-Qaeda’s soldiers, who was a guest in my house and older than me, in preparing media material for al-Qaeda. I asked him to enlist me with al-Qaeda’s field operation, but he refused and told me it’s too early for me to join and my time will come. Now I know what he meant. I will be with the second generation.” Therefore, the sleeper cells, adherents of Salafi-Jihadi ideology, are the core of the faceless second generation of al-Qaeda in Iraq set up by the ISI’s Ministry of Sharia. These sleeper cells have been secretly trained and preserved from exposure to security forces even at times when al-Qaeda was short on volunteers and badly needed more jihadis in the field. Al-Umma claims the second generation of al-Qaeda in Iraq is currently ready and waiting for instructions.

Related to al-Qaeda’s efforts to recruit a younger generation, a jihadi forum chatter nicknamed “Ibn al-Shati Gaza” posted press reports that talked about al-Qaeda’s recruitment of children between the ages of 11 to 16 called “the paradise boys” (, May 27). The paradise boys’ main target is alleged to be the Awakening councils, indicating that al-Qaeda might have penetrated the Awakening councils with a second generation of young jihadis quietly trained and kept away from the battlefield and security scrutiny.

Earlier, al-Qaeda’s main foe among the Iraqi jihadi groups, the Islamic Army of Iraq (IAI), accused al-Qaeda of recruiting and sending young children to their death on suicide missions that also killed women and children. A video clip uploaded to YouTube by IAI shows two masked men training a young masked child no more than 10 years old to fire a mortar shell and a teenager driving and detonating an explosives-laden pick-up truck into a power station (

Even though the use of children in jihadi operations was resented by many jihadi forum participants, especially those not aligned with al-Qaeda in Iraq, a few pro-al-Qaeda jihadis questioned the factualness of the information and video clips on the use of children, alleging that these clips are produced by U.S. intelligence to undermine al-Qaeda. Other al-Qaeda supporters consented to the use of children, but urged al-Qaeda to keep such strategy confidential.

Obviously, the wide rejection of al-Qaeda by Iraqis and the significant cessation of donations from Saudi Arabia pose serious problems for al-Qaeda in Iraq, consequently complicating its endeavors to prepare a second generation of jihadis. Moreover, the abuse of children in jihad will only further isolate al-Qaeda, which is already facing a possible end to its presence in Iraq.