Philippines: ISIL-linked Maute group using children as fighters

Images obtained by Al Jazeera show the Maute armed group using child soldiers as young as four-years-old in propaganda material.

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    Marawi, Philippines - An ISIL-linked armed group is using children to fight as soldiers against the Philippine army and filming them for propaganda, images obtained by Al Jazeera reveal.

    The Philippine military is battling the Maute and Abu Sayyaf armed groups, which have both declared allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).

    Scores of people - including dozens of civilians - have been killed in a more than one-week siege in Marawi, a mostly Muslim-populated city of 200,000 people, as troops attempt to flush out fighters.

    Most of the fighters with with Maute and Abu Sayyaf are in their 20s, but there is evidence to suggest that boys as young as four are being used as soldiers on the frontline.

     Images obtained by Al Jazeera show children being used as propaganda by ISIL-linked groups [Al Jazeera]

    Philippine army commanders say Maute is recruiting children through "hafiz" Quranic study sessions.

    Maute has also recruited orphans, particularly targeting the most vulnerable - those whose rebel parents were killed in combat.

     In this image, a child stands in front of a black ISIL flag [Al Jazeera]

    Armed groups in the Southern Philippines have been using children in combat for decades. Most are sent to fight by their own families.

    However, this is the first time in the decades-long fighting gripping the island of Mindanao that children have been used as propaganda tools in videos.

    Yasmira Mojer, a political science professor at Mindanao's Iligan Institute of Technology, told Al Jazeera that armed groups use the so-called war on terror as a recruitment tool.

    "You know the disillusionment because every now and then there is a peace process, and yet Moros felt they are socially-economically depressed in their own homeland."

    The Filipino Muslim Moro are the largest non-Christian minority in the Philippines, comprising about 10 percent of the 97 million-strong population.

     The crisis in Marawi has killed scores, including dozens of civilians [Al Jazeera]

    Maute wants to set up an Islamic state in Lanao province in Mindanao's north, one of the poorest regions in the Philippines.

    There are reports that the group is now receiving funding from abroad.

    President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in the south throughout mid-July after the fighters went on a deadly rampage in Marawi last week, following an unsuccessful military raid to capture Ismilon Hapilon - a veteran Filipino fighter regarded as the local ISIL leader.

    More than 2,200 people are estimated to be trapped in the conflict zones in Marawi, fearing for their lives amid violence by fighters and military air raids.

    The government has promised to end the crisis in Marawi in the coming week.

    However, many in the city believe that it will take longer to heal the society's wounds.


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