PALMYRA, Syria (Christian Examiner) – Twenty-five Syrian soldiers have been executed by ISIS militants in the ancient Roman amphitheater at Palmyra. While executions are nothing new with ISIS, it is the age of the executioners that has sent shock waves through the international community.
All were children and teenagers, dressed in combat fatigues and wearing head scarves.
In the nine-and-a-half-minute video, the captured soldiers are paraded into the venue where hundreds of Muslim men sit waiting for the spectacle. After a statement is read by an ISIS fighter, the soldiers – kneeling in front of a giant ISIS banner – are shot simultaneously by the children.
Many of the men executed in the amphitheater already showed the signs of serious abuse and torture at the hands of their ISIS captors.
It is unclear exactly when the video was made, but ISIS captured the ancient site sometime around May 21. Whether or not the soldiers were executed immediately following the capture of the site, or transported there for the grotesque act of theater is also not known.
Pictures of ISIS atrocities began leaking out of Palmyra almost immediately after its fall. On May 24, pictures of a group of 20 captured Syrian soldiers surfaced along with pictures of bodies lining the streets. According the Syrian military authority in charge of the province before it fell to ISIS, as many as 400 people were murdered in the streets.
Many of them were beheaded, and several hundred were women and children.
The executions in the amphitheater are also likely not the first. In May, multiple news sources reported ISIS had executed 20 men at the site after it conquered the territory.
Palmyra is a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site and prized by the Syrian government for its value to archaeological tourism. It was developed in the first and second centuries A.D. northeast of Damascus to serve as an oasis along the Roman trade routes with Persia. It was one of the few locations with water in the Syrian desert.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported June 26 that ISIS was struggling to hold onto Palmyra in the face of repeated counterattacks by government forces. According their report, ISIS militants had begun destroying several ancient artifacts and had wired others for detonation – including the amphitheater where the executions were carried out.
On July 2, the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported that Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO, condemned the destruction of ruins at Palmyra. In particular, she said, ISIS militants had destroyed several burial sites and the famous "Lion of Allat" statue, which depicts the ancient moon-goddess Allat. Bokova said the destruction of the antiquities shows "the barbaric and ignorant nature of extremist groups."
In November, NBC News reported on ISIS's harrowing tactic of training children for jihad. The children, called "Cubs of the Islamic State," are prepared for combat and suicide bomb missions.
"They teach them how to use AK-47s," an Iraqi security official, who did not wish to be named, told NBC News. "They use dolls to teach them how to behead people, then they make them watch a beheading, and sometimes they force them to carry the heads in order to cast the fear away from their hearts."