For children half a world away, the nightmares don’t stop.
Five-year-old Shadi and his older sister and brother are among thousands of children who have seen more terror than most of us combined in their short lifetimes: children sold as sexual slaves, suicide bombings, blood, guts and gore, forced torture and mutilation.
But most of all, they’ve stared death in the eye.
“Deflowered slave for sale, age 13,” one ad in an online jihadi marketplace reads. “Body: slim, tall. Price: $9,000.”
For the children of ISIS-controlled territories in Iraq and Syria, this is their reality. Their nightmare. Every. Single. Day.
“One day Shadi held a knife to our little sister’s throat,” Shadi’s older sister, Hadya, explains in a confronting episode of “Dateline,” an Australian news show similar to “60 Minutes.”
“He would have cut her ear off if my mother hadn’t stopped him. He said, ‘I’ll cut her throat, she’s mine.’”
The battle to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul has not come without a price. Even in recent days, Iraqi commanders said gains slowed to a crawl as ISIS fighters used families — including women and children — as human shields.
“ISIS sends children at our troops to blow themselves up in suicide bombings,” one Iraqi soldier said. The soldier said he believed most were between 10 and 15 years old.
“It’s a disaster for children,” a schoolteacher who fled Mosul said. “Children are mentally impregnated with this ideology.”
But as the light begins to shine into the darkness of a battered city, it shines on some of the worst affected — they just might not know it yet.
“Another time he almost set fire to the tent,” Shadi’s sister explains.
“My little sister was asleep and smoke was coming out.
“He said we had to burn the place down, ‘like ISIS said.’”
Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared “total victory” over ISIS in Mosul after retaking full control of the country’s second-largest city three years after it was seized by extremists bent on building a global caliphate.
Al-Abadi alluded to the brutality of the battle for Mosul — Iraq’s longest yet in the fight against ISIS — saying the triumph had been achieved “by the blood of our martyrs.” Mosul fell to ISIS in a matter of days in 2014 but the campaign to retake it lasted nearly nine months. The fight, backed by US-led coalition airstrikes, brought an end to the extremists’ so-called caliphate, but has also left thousands dead, entire neighborhoods in ruins and nearly 900,000 people displaced.
Hadya, 11, and her brothers Fadi, 9, and Shadi, 5, are among those displaced persons. The siblings were captives of the terror group for two years. Among their horror stories was when ISIS militants forced the three to dismember a captive prisoner.
“He came along and said, ‘You cut off a foot, you cut off an arm, and you slash his face with a knife,’” Hadya explained.
“[He said] ‘Otherwise I’ll take you away from your mother and kill you all.’”
“We were scared to refuse, we were each given a machete. I had to cut his hand off. I did it.”
“[Fadi] had to cut his feet off. Shadi had to cut his face with a knife.”
According to the children, the man died “when Shadi stabbed him in the eye.”
The United Nations said Monday there was no end in sight to the humanitarian crisis in Iraq despite the conclusion of the fighting. Of the more than 897,000 people displaced from Mosul, the UN said thousands of residents will probably not be able to return to the city because of “extensive damage caused during the conflict.”
“We were woken up at 4 a.m.,” a former child soldier, 12-year-old Ayad, revealed.
“We had to wash and pray. After prayers, we had to read the Koran and then came training. We were taught to plant explosives.”
“It was introductory training. They said that with bombs, your first mistake would be your last. They’d beat us with electric cable if we didn’t learn our lessons. They fired close to our feet to make us run faster.”
“It will be impossible to forget what has happened to me,” Ayad says. “They’ve done a lot of damage to me and to society as a whole.”
“Future generations won’t forget this disaster, these massacres.”