An Uzbek militant who claims to be fighting alongside the Taliban-aligned Imam Bukhari Jamaat in Syria has attempted to justify the use of children as fighters on the battlefield.
The militant, who communicated with RFE/RL's Uzbek Service via the WhatsApp messaging service on September 13, claimed he was in Syria and used a Syrian cellphone number. He declined to give his name, but claimed to be the same militant who spoke with RFE/RL's Uzbek Service in August.
The militant's group, the Imam Bukhari Jamaat, claims to have pledged allegiance to the Afghan Taliban in 2014 and regularly fights alongside Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra.
The Uzbek militant's comments came in reaction to RFE/RL's report earlier this month about the death of the teenage son of Imam Bukhari Jamaat's leader, Salahuddin al-Uzbeki.
The militant claims to have witnessed the death of the boy, Umar, who was killed fighting alongside his father against Syrian government forces in Aleppo province, where the Uzbek group is based.
Dead At 14
The militant's September 13 interview offers more details of Umar's death as well as insights into the ideology of the Imam Bukhari group regarding the use of children as militants.
The Uzbek militant told RFE/RL that Salahuddin's son, Umar, was 14 and not 16 as reported earlier this month by Chechen militants in Syria.
"The son of Sheikh Salahuddin was a shahid [martyr]," the militant wrote, adding that the boy was shot dead at close range by a gunman. "I was in the same row as Umar. The gunman killed him from nine meters."
The Uzbek militant said the boy was a "commander" in the Uzbek group.
"Umar, the 14-year-old son of our amir [leader] Salahuddin was our commander, because he was very brave," the militant explained.
According to the militant, Umar is not the only child militant recruited by the Uzbek extremist group.
"Here we have 9-, 10-, 11-, 12-, 14 -year-old mujahedin ["jihadi fighters"] with guns in their hands," the Uzbek militant claimed.
However, he did not clarify if the younger ones were used on the front lines.
Justifying Child Fighters
The militant said that "jihad" -- a concept used by militant Islamists in part to refer to violent armed struggle -- is not dependent on age.
The Uzbek militant gave a historical precedent to back up his reasoning.
"The son of Caliph Umar was 10 years old when he went to jihad," the militant said, referring to Umar ibn al-Khattab, the second caliph, or ruler, of the Islamic Rashidun Caliphate, an empire established in the seventh century.
"You can go to wage jihad at any age," the militant added.
"If you do not help your brothers in very difficult times, then when do you [help them]?"
The Uzbek militant also referred to another aspect of militant Islamist ideology to justify the death of 14-year-old Umar.
"Mujahedin do not die, they will live forever," the militant said.
The belief that "martyrs" are granted eternal life comes from an interpretation of a Koranic verse that reads: "And do not say about those who are killed in the way of Allah, 'They are dead.' Rather, they are alive but you perceive it not."
'Better Than IS'
The Uzbek militant went on to say that the Imam Bukhari Jamaat does not operate in the same way as Islamic State, a group he harshly criticized in his previous interview with RFE/RL.
"In Syria, we do not kill Muslims, like they do in IS-controlled territory," the militant said.
"You can come to see for yourselves or send your munafiq agents here," the militant added, using an Arabic term that means a hypocrite, a person who pretends to practice Islam but does not really believe.
"Nowadays we have lots of agents and spies coming from all around the world."
Written by Joanna Paraszcuk based on an interview by RFE/RL Uzbek Service correspondent Barnohon Isakova