In northern Iraq, freedom from terror may depend upon healing the mind of a child
The Yezidi boy known as S. was abducted by ISIS at the age of 9 and returned to his family at 12, a different person

RAISED IN NORTHERN IRAQ’S SMALL Yezidi religious minority, S. was 9 years old when the so-called Islamic State killed his father and brother, kidnapped him and turned him into a child soldier. He witnessed unspeakable violence, saw friends tortured and was beaten by the “teachers” who indoctrinated him into the group’s severe version of Islam.

Three years later, when his mother ransomed him back from ISIS for $10,000, he was returned against his will to a family he barely remembered. He tried repeatedly to run back to his former captors. He threatened his sisters with a knife, calling them infidels; hit his mother, saying he wasn’t really hers; and more than once tried to set fire to his uncle’s house. Brainwashed by ISIS with a combination of savage cruelty and lionizing praise, S. was wracked by interior conflict, a lonely pariah in a family alien to him, lashing out violently at the slightest provocation.

What to call the war on ISIS now that the group has lost the last of its territory in Iraq and Syria? President Donald Trump’s declaration of “victory” appears premature, given how much of the conflict exists not on battlefields but in the minds and souls of individuals.

In wars between countries, the losing side retreats to its borders. But since the late 1990s, the U.S. has been locked in wars against terrorist groups with no fixed address. The territory ISIS briefly did claim as a state served to enhance its attraction as something more difficult to confront: a global movement. Thus the question that now preoccupies counter-terrorism officials: What devotion does the group retain among the 8 million Iraqis and Syrians it ruled at the height of its power, the estimated 40,000 people who traveled from elsewhere to join its caliphate and the millions around the globe who may be entertaining its extreme vision of Islam?

And what will become of the thousands of youngsters press-ganged into ISIS’s forces in northern Iraq? The terrorists separated Yezidi children from their families, sometimes killing their parents in front of them. In the soil of that trauma, they planted the idea that

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from TIME

TIME1 min read
Judith Krantz
JUDITH KRANTZ WROTE JUICY CINDERELLA STORIES IN WHICH a poor, plucky girl possessed of otherworldly beauty—and perhaps even a royal title—could, through hard work, climb to the top of her chosen world, acquiring a closet full of clothes and significa
TIME3 min read
Erin Lee Carr
The documentary filmmaker on her new movie, true crime’s pull toward darkness and lessons from her famous father
TIME3 min readTech
The U.S. And Iran Are Already At War Online
WHEN A U.S. NAVY SURVEILLANCE DRONE was shot down over the Strait of Hormuz on June 20, the U.S. blamed Iran. The commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said his country was “ready for war,” and President Donald Trump responded