Afghan officials say the Islamic State, or IS, is trying to strongly influence children in the country’s East through a growing number of religious seminaries and schools.
The militant group operates at least 25 seminaries, or madrassas, in Nangarhar province, officials say. A madrassa is an Islamic religious school. But at the ones in Nangarhar, Afghan children reportedly are taught military ideology and how to prepare for suicide attacks.
"Madrassas that were built by local people are now being used by IS for militant activities," said Abdul Zahir Haqqani, the province’s director of religious affairs.
"They use them as military centers where they teach militancy, conduct military trainings, and plan their activities," he added.
Officials say that the majority of the students are children of IS fighters, but some local children also attend the IS-operated schools.
Afghans say they are concerned about IS's expertise in teaching terror to children and are asking for local officials and the government to intervene.
“The madrassas in the areas remain under IS control,” said a man named Ezzatullah, who like many Afghans uses a single name.
He added that IS agents train their fighters in the schools. "They used to be under the government, but not anymore. They teach how to shoot a Kalashnikov, a PK machine gun, and RPG (an explosive device fired by a rocket)."
Provincial leaders say they are preparing an attack against IS to free the schools from the militants.
"IS and other militant groups always try to use Islamic centers as their bases, where they not only provide training, but also use them for other terror activities," said Attaullah Khogyani, a provincial official.
He added that Afghan forces will continue to clear the Islamic centers of IS without causing damage to the centers.
IS forces entered the Afghanistan/Pakistan area in early 2015. Before that, they established bases in the eastern border areas of Afghanistan. The group calls Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of Iran its “Islamic State of Khorasan Province.”
In Nangarhar, a combination of groups have fought against IS supporters. They include local militias, provincial police, Afghan forces, Taliban fighters and American drone strikes.
According to Abdul Zahir Haqqani, IS also uses mosques as military centers. He said the group has turned at least 60 mosques in Nangarhar into training centers. IS has also killed many Islamic religious leaders if they do not support their extremist beliefs.
Experts say the teaching of children by IS will have a harmful effect for many years.
Michael Kugelman is a South Asia specialist at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. He says the only thing worse than extremist ideologies influencing a society is when they also influence the children of the society.
I’m Phil Dierking.
Zia-U-Rahman Hasrat and Noor Zahid wrote this story for VOANews.com. Phil Dierking adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
ideology – n. the set of ideas and beliefs of a group or political party
Kalashnikov – n. a type of rifle made in Russia.
province –n. any one of the large parts that some countries are divided into
seminaries –n. a school for training religious leaders
society – n. people in general thought of as living together in organized communities with shared laws, traditions, and values