The seven-year-old has a hint of a smile as he lifts a severed head with both hands. The photo of the boy, reported to be the son of the Australian Islamist militant Khaled Sharrouf, was taken in the northeast Syrian city of Raqqa which has been overrun by Islamic State militants. When Mr Sharrouf fled Australia to go to war in Syria, he took four of his children with him.
It is hard to fathom how that seven-year-old will psychologically recover from such a photo op. The Islamic State has published any number of similarly barbaric images on social media in recent months, depicting everything from decapitated heads in a saucepan to lines of captured soldiers ritually paraded and then executed. Forget the obvious vulnerability of a child’s psyche; it is difficult to imagine how any of these IS participants will regain their humanity.
As the United States and its allies become embroiled, again, in Iraq’s tragic bloodletting, a critical fear is that their citizens who travel to Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State's so-called caliphate will return to their home countries as trained killers with an extremist agenda. Western nations have reason to be concerned. More than 200 Australians have joined the terrorist organisation, and across Europe from Britain to Kosovo, hundreds if not thousands of young men and women have moved to the Middle East and “chosen the right path”, in the words of two teenage Austrian girls who disappeared from Vienna in April.
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