By Uzay Bulut
May 8, 2017
Militants in Islamic State-occupied portions of Syria have begun using schools to "educate" young children and train them in the use of deadly weaponry.
It has recently been revealed that Syria is not the only country in which young, eager minds receive Islamic State schooling. According to some reports in Turkish newspapers and prosecutor indictments, such schools have operated in Turkey, as well.
On March 2, the newspaper Cumhuriyet published a piece on ISIS education centres in Ankara. The chief prosecutor of Ankara prepared an indictment for 20 ISIS suspects including Ahmet Dogan, who goes by the nom de guerre "Ebu Eslem." The 20 individuals are accused of opening four illegal schools in Ankara where children were given religious education to become ISIS militants. Ahmet Dogan is also believed to be the "Amir" (commander) of the Ankara branch of ISIS. The schools are in the neighbourhoods of Sincan, Altındağ, Etimesgut and Çubuk, according to the indictment. The children were given report cards at the end of their education.
The police raided the school in Altındağ and found "organizational documents" belonging to ISIS, as well as Islamist books like The Morality of Salaf (the first three generations of the Islam's founder, Muhammad); Regarding the Road to Jihad, which has the photo of Osama bin Laden on its cover; Soldiers of Jihad on the Path to Martyrdom; and The Lost Minaret by Dr. Abdullah Azzam. Among the other materials police found were 15 blue and pink student report cards with ISIS symbols.
Islamic State supporters established some other "children's schools" in Istanbul, the Turkish media reported on February 10. In those schools, children were provided with a religious education on jihad and military training on how to use Kalashnikovs (a type of rifle or submachine gun).
The children who "succeeded" in their classes were given documents of commendation. Prosecutors prepared an indictment about the 35 Islamic State suspects who reportedly engaged in the training of the students, who included children of ISIS members who died in conflict zones, who have been jailed, or are still in Syria or Iraq fighting for ISIS.
The indictment also included the WhatsApp correspondence of two ISIS suspects, who praised violence against "Kafirs" (infidels). One message read, "One does not need to be at the fronts to get prepared for jihad."
The Islamic State schools, which were tuition-free, were called "Subyan [children's] schools" and "educational centres of Ribat," a classic Islamic term that means guard duty at a frontier outpost to defend an Islamic state. Photos of the children receiving jihad education at the schools are here.
The newspaper Cumhuriyet reported that the female principal of one of the schools, Fatma Kucuk, has not yet been arrested.
The indictment also included information about a "hidden" Masjid (mosque) in the Sultanbeyli neighbourhood of Istanbul allegedly used by ISIS members. The masjid looks like an office from the outside, but in it, ISIS supporters gathered to hold meetings and discuss the sharing of their duties, such as disseminating brochures and contacting people.
The newspaper Hürriyet also reported last August 23 that ISIS members "have done reconnaissance and investigation activities at 26 targets in 18 cities across Turkey."
According to police sources, "the targets include churches, houses and businesses of Kurds, NGOs, Kurdish municipal buildings, Alevi villages and places of worship, foreign diplomatic missions, touristic sites and entertainments places, public institutions, military and police centres."
Eren Erdem, an MP from Istanbul representing the Republican People's Party (CHP), said that he has been researching ISIS activities in Turkey for years:
There are more than 1,000 ISIS militants in Turkey and the sympathizers must be in the tens of thousands. ISIS militants have organized all across Turkey – in coffee houses, Internet cafes, mosques and cell hideouts. A lot of ISIS militants were arrested – only to be released later. Those who were released carried out terrorist attacks in Suruç, Gaziantep and Ankara.
Some Islamic scholars are publishing videos on YouTube that propagate ISIS or jihad. Hundreds of pro-ISIS books or documents have been published. But the government is turning a blind eye. There is no enforcement or sanction against those who engage in these activities.
Erdem added that there are at least 25 ISIS cell hideouts in Ankara alone; the government has been monitoring them since 2010, but has done nothing to stop them until recently.
In an operation against the Islamic State in Ankara last August, for example, police raided a five-story building ostensibly used as a "bookstore." The police found that the structure was actually being used as a training centre for 30 children – including 25 girls – between the ages of 9 and 17.
According to Milliyet, the children were called by their Islamic names rather than their real ones. Those who boarded in the building were understood to have been registered at the school after an advertisement was circulated in the social media. They were given report cards at the end of the training.
"ISIS has a very powerful network all across Turkey," Erdem said. He added,
ISIS militants receive ideological, logistic and weapons training in Turkey and then cross the border into Syria, where they get more military training to use heavy weaponry and even to make bombs. Then some of them return to Turkey to carry out terrorist acts. We are very worried because we know ISIS can target anyone, any time.
Given Turkey's violent crackdown on dissident media, it is getting harder and harder to investigate the criminal activities of ISIS and other Islamic organizations in Turkey.
It seems that until Turkish police carry out operations against these schools, and prosecutors have the courage or willingness to prepare indictments about them, we will never know how many more ISIS schools are operating across Turkey and how many children are being brainwashed inside them.
Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist and political analyst, is a fellow at the Middle East Forum.