AL-HOL CAMP, SYRIA - "We won't go to any infidel school," says Mohammed, 11, from Tajikistan. Other boys hanging around the Syrian camp market nod their heads in agreement. But Qassam, 13, from Azerbaijan has another idea. "If they taught us things like math and reading, then we would go," he suggests.
Mohammed considers it. "If they taught English and things like that, I would go too," he agrees. In the Islamic State, the only real home Mohammed remembers, he studied academics along with weapons, martial arts and IS ideology. He would like to study academics again, as long as they do not try to un-do his IS training.
In the final year of the "caliphate" he could not go to school. His family, along with thousands of others, retreated from town to town with the militant group until they finally reached Baghouz. There, coalition forces surrounded them a year ago, bombarding daily until they surrendered.
"We couldn't go to school in Baghouz because of those dogs," Mohammad tells us, flashing his eyes towards two young women, soldiers of the Syrian Democratic Forces who are guarding the al-Hol Camp, where the boys now live. Mohammed says his father died when he was a baby fighting in Afghanistan, but he does not really remember. His is voice grows quiet and steely. "I remember the dogs killing my mother in Baghouz with a mortar," he adds.
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