This week, Islamic State (IS) group social-media accounts circulated an image of a young boy of perhaps 12 or 13 years old. Clad in a black balaclava with the phrase "la ilaha illallah" (there is no god but Allah) printed in white -- just as it is on the all-too-familiar IS black flag -- the child, Abu Usama al-Salafi, raises his index finger in a self-conscious pose.
Abu Usama is not playing at being an Islamic State militant. He is one of the extremist group's child fighters. IS social media lauded him as the youngest fighter to guard the front lines in the Syrian town of Kobani, which IS has besieged.
Over the past weeks, more and more reports have emerged with evidence that IS militants are providing military training to schoolchildren in Syria and Iraq.
Other reports claim that the extremist group is also using children as young as 13 as fighters.
In Iraq's Mosul, which was taken over by IS gunmen in June, IS has replaced physical-education classes in local schools with martial-arts classes. A teacher in the city told Bloomberg that IS militants explained that "they need Mosul's students to be the future soldiers of the caliphate." Another Mosul resident, named as Abu Rawan, said that his 13-year-old nephew had been recruited by IS militants, who had given him a gun.
Also this week, an activist group in Raqqa, the Syrian town that has become Islamic State's de facto capital, posted evidence that IS militants are running a training camp for children under 16.
The group, Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, posted images of the camp on its Twitter feed:
In September, an image from one of Islamic State's children's summer training camps in Raqqa was widely circulated on social media. The photograph showed a very young boy clad -- like Abu Usama -- in a black balaclava. In one hand, he holds a blonde-haired doll dressed in a bright orange robe. In the other, he holds a knife.
According to Syria Deeply, at the Raqqa summer camp IS militants taught young children how to behead "blonde, blue-eyed dolls."
Children in Raqqa are being forcibly conscripted to IS camps, while some older male children are transferred to adult camps to learn how to use arms and fight, the report said.
In June, rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that several armed groups in Syria, including IS, are using child soldiers and even encouraging children to become suicide bombers. HRW quoted a teenage boy named as Amr, who said he had fought with IS when he was 15, and that his unit leaders had tried to get him to become a suicide bomber.
Islamic State has not attempted to conceal the fact that it uses child soldiers. In fact, via its network of social-media accounts, the group has lauded the fact, by posting images of child fighters like Abu Usama.
Earlier this year, IS social media accounts posted this image of children in the town of Al-Bab in Aleppo Province, who were photographed taking a pledge of allegiance to IS.
Children at the Aleppo camp
Among IS militants themselves, particularly those from the North Caucasus and some Central Asian countries who are in Syria with their families, it has become fashionable to dress up children as militants and take photographs of them holding -- and sometimes even using -- weapons.
This photograph was taken by a Chechen IS militant and shows his young daughter, Hadija, holding a rifle.
Another Chechen IS militant posted this image of his young son holding a handgun:
Uzbek militants in IS have also made videos showing children under the age of 10 being taught to shoot and express support for Islamic State and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk