Despite the Taliban’s denial that it uses children as human explosives, its spring offensive began with a suicide bombing by a 12-year-old boy. The attack is just one more sign that the militant group and its terrorist allies are increasing their efforts to recruit, train and utilize child suicide bombers.
The young terrorist’s suicide blast, which killed four Afghan civilians and wounded twelve in the Afghan province of Paktika, was roundly condemned by Afghan President Hamid Karzai as “inhumane and against all Islamic principles.”
Yet, it was one of two such suicide attacks carried out by child bombers in eastern Afghanistan over the past several weeks, attacks that killed over 15 people. Soon after those assaults, Afghan authorities showed off five captured would-be suicide bombers --all under the age of 13 -- trained by Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan.
As one Afghan intelligence official said, “They have been told that infidels are in Afghanistan … and they have been encouraged to go for Jihad.” In a disturbing twist, one of the captured bombers thought he would survive the attack when he was told by his instructors that “the (infidels) will be killed and you will live.”
For its part, the Taliban denied using children as human explosives, saying they do not use “beardless” or underage boys in their militant operations. According to a statement released by the terror group, “Those who haven't grown a beard due to being underage are prohibited to spend time with the mujahedeen in residential and military centers.”
Unfortunately for the Taliban, that statement contradicts its past claims to have trained anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand juveniles as suicide bombers. In fact, the Afghan government places the figure of trained child suicide terrorists closer to 5,000.
While the number of suicide bombers can range from as little as age seven to over forty, most suicide bombers are under the age of 18. Sadly, the recruitment and training of these children is not only extensive and well organized, but growing.
To that end, suicide training factories have sprouted up all over the Afghan-Pakistan border, with most located in the Pakistani province of Waziristan. There, it’s been estimated that the Fedayeen-e-Islam have trained over 1,000 suicide bombers at three facilities. More disturbingly, many suicide training centers have been designated into junior and senior camps.
The Pakistani army found one such junior camp, equipped with computers, video equipment and literature, where children as young as age 10, according to one army officer, “knew about the planting of explosives, making and wearing and detonating suicide jackets.”
The increased demand for child bombers comes as the Taliban have focused its efforts on attacking an expanding list of civilian targets, sites which include schools, mosques, markets, government offices and other public places.
Tragically, the results have been all too effective. In the month of February alone, Afghanistan saw suicide bombings in the capital of Kabul that killed 10 civilians; an attack in Khost that killed nine; an attack in Kandahar that killed 18; an attack in Jalalabad that killed 40; and an attack in Kunduz that killed 28.
To some, the emphasis on suicide bombings is seen as a sign of the terror group’s desperation. According to one Afghan army commander, the Taliban and its terrorist allies have “no ability to conduct large scale operations anywhere, so he has switched tactics.” As district leader Hamdullah Nazak, a reported survivor of 11 attempts on his life said, “Of course. It’s the only way for the Taliban now.”
Whether the increase in suicide attacks is a sign of desperation or not, the reality is that the vast majority of the bombings continue to be made by the most vulnerable. Unfortunately, as children make particularly good suicide terror candidates, they remain the Islamists’ favorite choice of human explosive.
According to a report by the Joint Intelligence Group at Guantanamo, child suicide bombers “are more willing to martyr themselves due to their lack of reasoning on taking innocent lives.” That willingness to die is of course exploited by the militants through a variety of ways, including desensitization and brainwashing. As one Afghan official has noted, “They are made to watch video films, showing physical torture and killing of Muslims women and children …by what they call infidels.”
Like their adult compatriots, juvenile bombers are told that the rewards for performing such deadly deeds are great. One captured suicide bomber said he was told by his instructors that as a good Muslim he had a duty to defend Islam and that “as soon as I blow myself up, I will be in heaven and will get eternal peace.” Even the fact that a bomber may kill another child is justified by the Islamic trainers, who argue that those killed are “non-believers or children of non-believers.”
Still, despite the indoctrination, most suicide recruits are not trusted to complete their deadly tasks on their own. That is why the terrorist trainers ensure that most recruits are accompanied to their targets by a handler who leaves them to detonate their explosives. For those who display a change of heart in the process, the terrorists rely on the threat and use of violence to ensure compliance.
As Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton has said, the terrorists “purposely inflict violence on children to strike fear in those who oppose them.” That need to resort to violence to guarantee obedience comes from the fact that many recruits don’t come to the jihad willingly, but are the victims of kidnapping by the terrorists.
Willing or not, a suicide recruit remains a highly valued product. In fact, the sale of recruits has become a very lucrative business. The Taliban alone have reportedly been buying children as young as seven. As one Afghan official stated, “The ongoing price for child bombers has been fixed at $ 7,000 to $ 14,000; the price depends on how quickly the bomber is needed and how close the child is expected to get to the target.”
While 90 percent of the trained bombers are estimated to have been used in Afghanistan, it has been reported that 5,000 Pakistani children have received training on suicide bombing for use in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s interior minister claimed that of the 2,488 incidents of terrorism in Pakistan in the last two years -- which claimed the lives of 3,169 people -- most were the result of suicide bombings conducted by underage terrorists. The most recent attack came in April when two young suicide bombers struck a Pakistani shrine that killed 50 worshippers and wounded more than 100.
Of course, the fact Islamist militants would continue to use children in such a grotesque manner comes as little surprise. After all, these same terror groups have used children with Down syndrome and mentally impaired women as suicide bombers in the past.
So, in a world where underage suicide bombers are referred to by their terrorist handlers as “weapons of mass destruction or atom bombs,” and where children play a game called suicide bomber with the frequency American children play tag, it’s understandable that they will continue to be preyed upon by their malevolent elders.
Frank Crimi is a writer living in San Diego, California. You can read more of Frank's work at his blog, www.politicallyunbalanced.com.