Militants from the Islamic State (IS) group have tortured and abused Kurdish children from the northern Syrian city of Kobani, rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has reported.
HRW said on November 4 that four children aged 14 to 16 had provided detailed testimonies of the abuse they suffered at the hands of IS gunmen. The children also reported that IS enforced a strict regime of religious instruction on them.
IS militants abducted a group of 253 Kurdish schoolchildren on May 29, as they were returning home to Kobani after taking exams in the city of Aleppo. The militants released 100 kidnapped girls shortly after, but held 153 boys in a school in Manbij, an IS-held town in Aleppo Province south of Kobani. The children have now been released -- IS set the last group free on October 29, apparently because they had finished the course of religious instruction imposed on them during their captivity.
The four children HRW interviewed revealed a litany of abuse and torture at the hands of their IS militant captors in Manbij. IS specifically targeted those children who had family members in the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia, the interviewees said.
The captured children were repeatedly beaten on the hands, back, and soles of the feet with electrical cables and a hose, and were made to watch videos of IS gunmen beheading captives. One boy was strung up with his hands behind his back after he called out for his mother.
One boy told HRW that IS militants beat those who did not conform to the strict program of religious instruction enforced on the children.
"They beat us with a green hose or a thick cable with wire running through it. They also beat the soles of our feet. The tire was used less often. I was once put inside the tire and beaten. They sometimes found excuses to beat us for no reason. The Syrian guards were the worst and beat us the worst. They made us learn verses of the Koran and beat those who didn't manage to learn them. When some boys tried to escape, the treatment got worse and we were all punished and given less food," the boy, aged 16, said.
The plight of the predominantly Kurdish town of Kobani has been highlighted in media reports in recent weeks, since IS militants began to siege the town and the villages around it on September 16. However, IS militants have launched previous attacks on the Kobani area, including a large offensive that started on July 2.
Kobani is an important town for the Kurds, because it is considered the starting point for the local autonomy movement.
The Kurds have suggested that Kobani has become an "obsession" for IS for a number of reasons, including that the militant group sees the Kurdish region as part of its self-declared caliphate, and that it wants to put a stop to the Kurdish autonomy movement. By capturing Kobani, IS will also be able to target other Kurdish areas along the Turkish border.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk