Shocking images of what appears to be a child soldier training camp allegedly operated by Boko Haram have surfaced in the Internet.
According to Newsweek, al-Urwa al-Wuthaqa, a media outfit that is widely believed to be connected to the Nigerian terrorist organisation, published a series of images online that appear to depict children being trained to become fighters.
In one photo, children are shown carrying actual AK-47 assault rifles. The children are dressed in garments with dark colours and have turbans tied around their heads. While the majority of the children are holding real assault rifles, some of the children in the background are given paper cutouts of rifles instead.
Another photo shows the children making poses with their weapons, Newsweek said.
According to Northwestern University political science Professor Max Abrahms, Boko Haram is now recruiting children into its ranks in order to bulk up its membership roster.
"Terrorist organisations have power in numbers. The more members in the group, the greater its capability. There is a correlation between the membership size of a terrorist group and its ability to inflict bloodshed," Abrahms said.
The professor added that terrorist groups will recruit even young boys and girls in an effort to "amass the most members as possible."
Andrew Noakes, coordinator for the Nigeria Security Network, also said that children are being absorbed into the organisation to address difficulties in recruitment as Boko Haram's brutal tactics have effectively "alienated" the group from locals in the northeastern region of Nigeria.
Noakes described to Newsweek the role that children play in actual operations. "Boko Haram often uses its child soldiers and other forced recruits to form the first wave of an attack, before sending in the more experienced fighters to finish off operations," he said.
Boko Haram is not the first terrorist group to boost its membership with child soldiers. Last month, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria released footage of its fighters training children through social media accounts allegedly affiliated with the extremist organisation.