“The Birds of Paradise”, al-Qaeda’s Approach to Use of Minors in Combat

“You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them.” -Thomas Gradgrind in Charles Dickens’ Hard Times

Dickens’ quote is exemplary of the 19th century attitude about children’s education, where students were regarded as vessels receiving information without the right to debate the source or validity of that information. Today’s radical Selafists supporting violent Jihad subscribe to a radical adaptation of Mr. Gradgrind’s statement – that winning the war is a reality as long as recruits are told who they are fighting for and who they are fighting against. This attitude, promoted in Salafist discussions, is in line with Ibn Taymiya’s 1400-year old reasoning and Ahmed bin Abd al-Wahhab’s 18th Century puritan thoughts on Islam. These do not harmonize with the pace of life and the 21st century reality.

The Birds of Paradise,” a group launched in 2008, is al-Qaeda’s project to use minors in combat for observation, data collection and to launch attacks. This group has been credited directly with the recruitment and brainwashing of children under the age of 15 to carry out violent activity. In its twelfth issue, the e-magazine of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the “Echo of the Epics,” published an article justifying the use of children in combat. The article “The Rule of the Boys and Young Men’s Participation in Combat” states that the four (4) schools of thought in Islam[i] agree that a boy of 15 is no longer a child, but a man, and thus compelled to participate in combat.

Jihad in Islam is not applicable unless the participant is fully aware of this duty. If most of those recruited to participate actively in violent actions under the guise of Jihad are not aware of the true meaning of this “sacred duty,” how could a 15-year old truly understand it? A child of 15 lacks decision-making experience about what he wants to pursue, making his act of detonating himself in the midst of a crowd, – committing suicide and killing others – one of the greatest sins in Islam.

The al-Arabiya Satellite Channel covered a story about a ten-year old boy in Amiriyat al-Falluja, west of Baghdad, on April 7th, 2010. The child was outfitted with an explosive belt and then asked to detonate himself as close as he could to a checkpoint barrier when it was packed with people. In scenarios like this one, violent militants seek to cultivate a dark hatred towards the enemy in the recruit, often by presenting them with facts without rational justification. In doing so, militants are overlooking the fact that teaching violence and revenge will backfire and harm the same society they are supposed to protect. The boy in Amiriyat al-Falluja was arrested before managing to detonate his belt.  This story is an example of the children who have been associated with al-Qaeda. Many of these children have gone to work planting IEDs or serving as informants for the terrorist organization after losing one or both of their parents.[ii]

The “Echo of the Epicsarticle goes on to explain that, in the case of “Fardh Kifaya,” “Collective Duty”, 15-year old boys do need parental approval to take part in combat.  This parental consent is discarded, however, in the case of “Fardh A’yn”, “An Individual’s Duty” (see Female Jihadists Part I).

The growing number of orphans in Iraq, mainly in areas still lacking a strong security presence, provides a rich source of potential recruits for militant groups that believe in violence as the only means to promote their unjustified views. The lack of government care for these orphans, the rise in unemployment rates and the increase in prices of goods are only some of the obstacles presented to immediate family members struggling to provide shelter and care for the orphans. Additionally, young widows, most in their late teens or early 20s, in areas heavily influenced by tribal codes, are forced into marriages to preserve[iii] the rising number of young husbandless mothers, and add to the fighters the unaccounted for orphans[iv]. The Emir in command of a particular area not only controls the fate of the young widows who are oftentimes married to foreign fighters, he is also the one who decides the fate of the orphan boys. In doing so, an al-Qaeda Family is formed.

Militant radicals insist on depriving the majority of the Muslim population from education, lest they lose their control and power. If the majority of Muslims realize there are numerous options where they can prove Islam is not a religion that promotes violence, the Dark Ages imposed on Islam would be over. Through their good deeds in building their own nation and protecting it from culprits, Muslims, men and women, seniors and children are able to counter the attempts of these radicals who have marred the image of Islam worldwide. How can the Muslim nation grow if its children and women are used as human bombs? How can it survive if its people are not allowed the education that goes hand in hand with the actual teachings of Islam, where they can live, worship and help each other and their Umma as God ordered them to?


[i] The four major schools of jurisprudence in Sunni Islam are, Al-Hanafi, al-Maliki, al-Shafi’e and al-Hanbali.

[ii] “Al-Qaeda Launches ‘Hareem al-Qaeda’, and ‘The Birds of Paradise,’ to Execute Suicide Operations, Al-Arabiya Satellite Channel, 04/08/2010.

[iii] “preserve” is to keep the widows safe and away from harm’s way, not to be victims of harassment for being young widows. That society looks with suspicion at young widows or young divorced females for no longer being virgins and thus could be easily involved with sexual activities outside marriage.

[iv] “unaccounted orphans,” are the orphans with husband-less mothers, that is why the Emir tends to marry these young widows to other fighters so the children would be part of the bigger al-Qaeda family.

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Foundlings of The FARC?

Conflicting narratives have been emerging regarding the treatment of women and children by the FARC. Both supporters and opponents of the Marxist guerilla movement have been prolific in their praise or condemnation of the movement’s treatment of women and children.

The FARC likes to portray its movement as a healthy crèche of the next wave of Marxist guerillas trained from birth to fight for the people’s revolution.  However, while women in the FARC are supposed to be “fighters as well as mothers,” some have alleged that young mothers have been forced into unwanted abortions in order to preserve their effectiveness as fighters. Male fighters are allowed to fall in love with their female comrades, as long as they continue to perform their duties responsibly.  Through photos, the FARC publicizes the prominent roles that women in children play in the movement.  The FARC aimed to give birth to a “new socialist culture” in the jungle, poised to take the decadent cities.

Nevertheless, women in the FARC have their children stolen away from them to be raised communally, a system that harkens back to Maoist communal childcare. Since Marulanda’s death, there have been increased reports of combatants abandoning their ranks, who complain that cases of rape, boredom and lack of direction in the jungle have led to low morale and defections. Many women get punished, raped and executed, and the romantic idea of female as revolutionary fighters is long gone. If these allegations are true, they raise questions about the long-term sustainability of the FARC, given that a third of the movement’s members are women.

Colombian newspaper El Cambio published an article claiming that the FARC’s new generation of leaders has resorted to kidnapping children as young as young as 8 or 9-years-old to boost the group’s cadre of soldiers.  The daily El Specatador even went so far last January as to call Colombia “The Congo of Latin America,” because of the prevalence of child soldiers employed by The FARC.

If these developments continue, the FARC, already on the wane, will be increasingly marginalized in Colombian society.  The FARC is turning into an example of the insurgent groups that Jeffrey Gettleman described in his Foreign Policy article, groups that morph from national resistance groups into criminal syndicates, movements that prefer hiding in the bush, “where it is far easier to commit crimes.”

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