“My message to Trump, the puppet of the Jews: Allah promised us victory, promised you defeat,” the child who gives his name as Yousef said amid ruins in the terrorist group’s Syrian capital, Raqqa. “This battle is not gonna end in Raqqa or Mosul. It’s gonna end in you lands.”
Yousef speaks in clear, unaccented English, but his real identity is unknown. Yousef said he moved to Syria from America with his family two years ago.
“My father’s an American soldier who fought the mujahideen in Iraq,” he said in the video.
The video shows Yousef speaking Arabic, and also has clips where he appears to be reading from a Qur’an in Arabic. In other clips, he and the Yazidi boy walk through bombed out areas of Raqqa, and in another they follow an adult man into a building and assemble rifles and other weapons.
Six of the 131 Americans charged in ISIS-related cases have military backgrounds, according to statistics gathered by the George Washington University Program on Extremism. It is not known how many people with U.S. military backgrounds are fighting with ISIS abroad.
ISIS has also used Western hostages in propaganda videos. Most notably, it has used British journalist John Cantlie as a vessel to relay its message. Cantlie, who was taken hostage in Syria in 2012, has appeared in a number of psuedo-news broadcasts from ISIS relaying the advancements of its so-called caliphate.
“While this is the first time they have used an American child speaking, it’s significant that he identifies his father as a former U.S. soldier and makes an overt threat to Trump,” Mia Bloom, a professor at Georgia State University who studies terrorist groups, told The Daily Beast. “The use of children in this way is intended to show the conflict is multi-generational. That even the kids are radicalized.”
Bloom’s research shows that children are used not just as propagandists but also as soldiers in the terrorist group’s operations. ISIS uses nearly two dozen children a month in operations, Bloom said.
It has also featured children propaganda videos in territories ranging from “Raqqa o Marawi,” Bloom added. Some of the children have speaking roles, while others carry out violent acts on camera. While the newest video does not show the boys setting out for a military operation, they are shown handling weapons.
“[Yousef] was clearly scripted and there were many takes in order to get the kid to complete the script,” Bloom said.
The boy reads a script about the unifying power of the caliphate for much of the video. He appears alongside a boy identified as his “best friend,” a Yazidi child taken from Sinjar and now being raised to be a soldier for ISIS.
Yousef and the boy live in the same house and are like brothers, they say.
ISIS has consistently sought to use westerners in propaganda videos geared towards the West. One of its most notorious propagandists was Mohammed Emwazi, better known as Jihadi John, who carried out multiple brutal videotaped executions cast as messages to the U.K., America, and their allies.
The use of members from abroad carries a dual purpose: To show potential recruits examples of people who have followed along the same path, and to show a Western audience that people from their midst are drawn to the terrorist group’s ideology. And the video seems to echo a shift in ISIS strategy. As the terrorist group continues to lose ground in Iraq and Syria, it relies more on supporters carrying out attacks in the West to maintain its relevancy.
“Any child used in that capacity in an ISIS video...is sick,” said State Department spokesman Heather Nauert Wednesday, adding that she can’t confirm the child is American. “It’s depraved. It’s another example of how wrong and evil ISIS is.”
-- with additional reporting by Kimberly Dozier.