Source: The Long War Journal – by Bill Roggio and Caleb Weiss (Uighur jihadist group in Syria advertises ‘little jihadists’)
The Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), an al Qaeda-affiliated Uighur jihadist group that is operating in Syria, recently released a video that includes photos of children with weapons and jihadist garb accompanied by an Uighur-language nasheed [A cappella Islamic music]. The children were described as “little jihadists” on the TIP’s official Twitter feed.
Most of the photos in the slideshow depict TIP fighters posing for the camera or operating near the frontlines, while others show more scenes from the battle at the Abu Duhour airbase in Idlib province. Nearly halfway into the video, fighters are seen posing with their children before the photos exclusively feature the “little jihadists.” The children are shown posing with AK-47 assault rifles, attending Sharia classes, and partaking in weapons training.
This is not the first time that the TIP has shown children in training. In July, the group first publicized a training camp in Idlib, which appears to be in the same area. Several of those photos depict the children learning how to operate AK-47’s, sub-machine guns, and other handguns. In both cases, many of the children appear to be Uighur, but it is possible that some are native Syrians. The group’s former military leader was a native Syrian and the group has featured other Syrians in its ranks before.
While the Islamic State gets most of the attention regarding training camps for children it runs, the group is far from the only jihadist group in Syria that does so. The TIP, Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in the country, and the Chechen-led Junud al Sham all run camps for children. Additionally, two groups in the Islamic Front coalition, Jaish al Islam and Ahrar al Sham, a powerful al Qaeda-ally, are also known to train children. A group run by Abdullah al Muhaysini, a popular al Qaeda-linked cleric from Saudi Arabia, has also released a video showing children in training.
The TIP in Syria is known to operate at least two other training camps in Syria. One camp is run for children, which appears to be in a different location in Idlib than the one mentioned above. The second camp is for adult fighters, albeit in a very rudimentary setting. [For more information, see this mapmade by The Long War Journal.]
While the TIP has been active in Syria, its core leadership is based in Afghanistan and Pakistan and operates in those countries as well as in China. The TIP has also advertised camps for children and women in the Afghan-Pakistan region.
In a video released in the spring of 2013, the jihadist group promoted a camp for children in Pakistan, some of whom appear to be no older than six. The children are shown firing handguns, AK-47 assault rifles, and a PKM machine-gun from various positions. As the children fire their weapons, the black flag of the Taliban and a light blue banner used by the Turkistan Islamic Party can be seen flying in the background.
In the summer of 2013, the group published a video that showed five burka-clad women training with pistols, assault and sniper rifles, machine guns, and grenade launchers.
Both videos were likely filmed in Mir Ali in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan. The TIP was based there before a Pakistani military offensive targeted the group starting in June 2014.
The TIP has been involved in almost all of the major operations that have taken place in Idlib province in Syria this year. The jihadist group assisted in the capture of the Abu Duhour airbase and the city of Jisr al Shughur, where it launched at least two suicide bombings in support of the operation. It also helped overrun several important towns and villages in the strategic Al Ghab plain with Jund al Aqsa and two Uzbek groups, Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad, an al Qaeda affiliate, and the Imam Bukhari Jamaat, which has pledged allegiance to Mullah Akhtar Mansour of the Taliban.