Islamic State Tortured Kurdish Child Hostages, Says Rights Group

Kurdish refugee children from the Syrian town of Kobani stand near a makeshift tent in a camp in the southeastern town of Suruc, October 26, 2014. Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

Islamic State militants in Syria forced children as young as 14 to watch videos of beheadings and beat them with cables during six months of captivity, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.

The Sunni Muslim militants abducted a group of children on May 29 as they returned to the Syrian town of Kobani after taking school exams in the city of Aleppo. It freed the final 25 hostages on Oct. 29.

Islamic State has captured swathes of Iraq and Syria, declaring an Islamic caliphate that erases borders between the two. Its fighters have killed or driven away Shi'ite Muslims, Christians and other communities who do not share their ultra-radical brand of Sunni Islam.

Kobani, a predominantly Kurdish town on the Syrian border with Turkey, has been besieged by Islamic State militants for more than a month despite U.S.-led air strikes meant to displace them.

The abuse of more than 150 children, some held as long as six months, amounted to war crimes, Human Rights Watch said, citing testimony from interviews with four boys among the group.

The children described being forced to pray five times a day and undergoing intense religious instruction, as well as being forced to watch videos of Islamic State in combat and beheading captives, the New York-based group said.

"Those who didn't conform to the program were beaten. They beat us with a green hose or a thick cable with wire running through it. They also beat the soles of our feet," it quoted one boy as saying.

"They sometimes found excuses to beat us for no reason ... They made us learn verses of the Koran and beat those who didn't manage to learn them."

The boys said they were given no reason for their release other than that their religious education was now over. The last children to be let go were now seeking shelter in Turkey, the rights group said.

Those from families with members fighting with the Kurdish militia, called YPG, which has been defending Kobani, were singled out for abuse, the children said.

Their captors, who came from Syria, Jordan, Libya, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia, "told them to give them the addresses of their families, cousins, uncles, saying, 'When we go to Kobani, we will get them and cut them up.' They saw the YPG as infidels," one 15-year-old boy told Human Rights Watch.

Other Kurdish children and adults are still in captivity, the rights group said. Islamic State is also thought to hold less than 10 Western hostages, including foreign journalists.

The United States and its allies have pounded Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria since August, stepping up the bombardment after the insurgents moved in on Kobani in October.