And you shall not give any of your offspring to pass through the fire for Molech. Leviticus 18:21
Using child suicide bombers “is the grim reality of the Taliban Frankenstein that now threatens to overwhelm the Pakistani state,” said Bruce Riedel, a Brookings Institution scholar who chaired a review of Pakistan-Afghanistan strategy for President Obama.
Murad Ali, one of five schoolboy suicide bombers rescued from a Taleban training camp, looks haggard beyond his 13 years.
He was thrilled at first when he was given a gun, but Murad told The Times last week of his ordeal at the hands of the Islamists, who have kidnapped 1,500 children like him to prepare for their fatal missions.
Murad was studying in class five in Mingora, the main city in northwest Pakistan’s Swat Valley, when the Islamists abducted him and took him to their remote mountain base in Chuprial.
Looking drained in his smudged clothes and dirty sandals, he gave a glimpse into the short life that awaits boys who are taken by the Taleban.
The next stage of his training included 16 hours a day of physical exercise and psychological indoctrination. “My instructor told me that martyrdom is the biggest reward of Allah,” Murad said quietly.
Another boy, Abdul Wahab, 15, said that the Taleban lured him to the camp from his studies at a madrassa — Islamic school — in Mingora. “I was told that it was a religious duty of every Muslim to get training to fight the enemies of Islam,” he said.
He said that he did not appreciate what he would be asked to do. “I panicked when a few days later I was told that I would be getting training for suicide bombing,” he said.
The Army believes that between 1,200 to 1,500 boys as young as 11 who were trained in Swat to become suicide bombers were recruited after the Pakistani Government signed a peace deal with the Taleban in February, handing over control of the valley to the militants.
The agreement broke down after the Taleban started advancing on Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, which led to a military offensive that has all but driven the militants from the region.
The boys were rescued after the Taleban were forced to abandon their camps. Many are still missing, however, having been sold to militants in other areas.
“We are trying to track them down,” said Brigadier Tahir, the commanding officer in Mingora. “We are not sure how many of them are still alive.”
The Taleban turned to children as potential suicide bombers because they were impressionable, less likely to be detected, and better able to reach their targets.
“They are told that the Pakistani Army has become an enemy of Islam, as it is fighting for Christians and Jews,” said a senior official involved in the interrogation of potential suicide bombers who have surrendered or been captured.
On the day of a planned attack, the designated suicide bomber is taken to a mosque to be congratulated for being chosen by God. “Sometimes he is also heavily drugged before the attack,” the official said.
The children were told that they should not allow anyone, even their parents, to get in the way of jihad. “You must not hesitate even to kill your parents if they are on the wrong side,” said Kurshid Khan, 14, who was selected for training which could have taken him to South Waziristan.
The lawless region bordering Afghanistan is controlled by Baitullah Mehsud, the head of Pakistan’s Taleban.
Pakistani intelligence officials said that 70 per cent of suicide bombers were trained at the camps run by Qari Hussain, who is Mr Mehsud’s most trusted lieutenant. Mr Hussain often boasted that he could convince anyone in ten minutes to become a suicide bomber.
They believe that many of the children trained at Mr Hussain’s camps have carried out attacks on US and Nato forces in Afghanistan. A recent UN report said that 80 per cent of the bombers involved in attacks in Afghanistan came from camps in Pakistan.
The army has set up a rehabilitation centre for the children to help them to return to their former lives. Murad is back in Mingora.
“We did not have any clue where he went,” said Mohammad Salman, his father. “I was horrified when I was told that my son could be a suicide bomber.”