Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 21 October 2019

ISIL lures children with alphabet apps

Huroof, which means letters in Arabic, is ISIL's first mobile app directed specifically at children and teaches words such as 'tank', 'sword', 'bullet', 'gun and 'ammunition'.
Screen grabs of the Huroof app released by ISIL which teaches children Arabic letters but is full of extremist language in the nasheed (Islamic songs) and includes inappropriate words such as gun, sword, bullet and tank.
Screen grabs of the Huroof app released by ISIL which teaches children Arabic letters but is full of extremist language in the nasheed (Islamic songs) and includes inappropriate words such as gun, sword, bullet and tank.
SINGAPORE // At first, the brightly coloured pictures and letters on the electronic flashcards look like nothing more than an educational app for teaching children the Arabic alphabet.

Upon closer inspection, however, it becomes clear that some of the words being taught on the app Huroof are rather sinister, such as "tank", "sword", "bullet", "gun" and "ammunition".

Huroof, which means letters in Arabic, is ISIL's first mobile app directed specifically at children and was released by the extremist group via its encrypted Telegram channel.

According to the Long War Journal, which first reported on it in May, the Android app includes games and nasheed - Islamic spiritual songs - to supposedly help children memorise the Arabic alphabet.

"The lyrics in the nasheed are littered with jihadist terminology, while other games within the app also include militaristic vocabulary with more common, basic words," said the journal.

Less than six months after releasing Huroof, ISIL released another app for children called Mu'alim Al Huroof (Alphabet Teacher) on October 4, according to Remy Mahzam, associate research fellow at the Singapore-based S Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

Such apps are "just accelerants and supportive technologies in facilitating the indoctrination process", said Mr Mahzam.

"The real deal is in the schools and education system that are central to shaping the hearts and minds of these children; the syllabus taught in military training camps which looks at the spiritual upbringing as well as equipping [them with] military combat skills."

From using mentally challenged children as suicide bombers to mass abductions and forced conscription, the atrocities committed by ISIL against children are countless.

According to the United Nations, ISIL abducted more than 1,000 Iraqi children from Mosul district last year, placing those below the age of 10 in "religious education camps" and forcing those between 10 and 15 into military training. Iraq's ministry of human rights has said children who refused to obey ISIL orders were flogged, tortured or raped.

The world might not be ready to deal with the psychological and emotional damage inflicted on these children by ISIL, warned Anne Speckhard, a psychologist and adjunct associate professor of psychiatry at the School of Medicine at Georgetown University.

"It will be very hard to deal with," said Ms Speckhard, who is also the director of the International Centre for the Study of Violent Extremism.

If the issue is not addressed, "there will be long-term repercussions for these families and the societies where these kids will grow up as they may grow up to be brutal and sick if not returned to safety" and treated for their post-traumatic stress disorder, she said.

jtan@thenational.ae

Updated: December 19, 2016 04:00 AM

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