South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Young Afghans being coerced into joining jihad with threats of violence and promises of martyrdom

by Jon Boone in Kabul

Many Taliban recruits in Kabul juvenile detention centre say there were tricked or coerced into committing atrocities.

The Taliban gave Noor Mohammad a simple choice – either they would cut off his hand for stealing or he could redeem himself and bring glory on his family by becoming a suicide bomber.

Held in Taliban custody in a different village from his parents, after allegedly stealing mobile phones during a wedding party in his village, the 14-year-old boy went for the second option.

He was soon being given basic lessons in how to use a handgun, which he would use to shoot the guards at a nearby US military base in Ghazni, a province in south-east Afghanistan which is considered the most violent in the country.

He was also fitted with a suicide vest that covered his torso with explosives. He was told that when inside the base he should touch two trailing wires together, killing himself and as many US and Afghan soldiers as possible.

Having kitted the soon-to-be martyr out in his jihadi outfit, the insurgents took photos and sent him on his way. Such is one method by which the Taliban recruit a growing number of children used for suicide missions.

A tactic pioneered by al-Qaida but almost unheard of in Afghanistan until 2005, suicide bombing is becoming more popular with insurgents attempting to meet the massively intensified Nato campaign with their own surge of violence.

In one recent case a 12-year-old boy in Barmal district in Pakitika province, which borders Pakistan, killed four civilians and wounded many more when he detonated a vest full of explosives in a bazaar.

“They are relying more and more on children,” said Nader Nadery, from the country’s Independent Human Rights Commission, who thought the Taliban were struggling to recruit enough adults. “When somebody runs out of one tool they go to use the second one.”

Mohammad, who talked to the Guardian on Tuesday at a children’s prison in Kabul, is awaiting trial after surrendering to the Americans rather than going through with the attack.

He says he was left by his Taliban handlers to walk the last few miles to the base in Andar district two weeks ago. Instead he sat down and thought about his predicament. “It is a sin to kill yourself and to kill others,” he decided. “So I took off the vest and threw it away.”

Surrendering proved tricky as the guards he had been supposed to kill were slow to raise the alert and he was questioned only after sleeping outside the camp for a night.

He later led the Americans to the village where the Taliban members lived, identifying a house where the Americans recovered weapons and homemade explosives.

Two Taliban from the village were also killed during a shootout after he identified them, Mohammad said. He knows that because he will never be able to go back to his village and will probably never see his family again.

Not all bombers are coerced. Some are tricked, like a group of four children who were recently arrested after travelling alone across the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan.

Lutfullah Mashal, the spokesman for the National Directorate of Security (NDS), said his spy agency’s informants in Peshawar had raised the alarm that the four were on their way.

The boys had confessed during questioning, telling the security forces they believed only American soldiers would die when they detonated their bombs and that they would escape unscathed.

But, speaking on Tuesday, they claimed they were forced into making a confession after being beaten and threatened with rape by police. Their new account is hard to believe, however, and at times contradictory.

According to Fazal Rahman, a tearful nine-year-old made all the more distressed by the loss of two teeth at the dentist, the idea to travel to Afghanistan came from Maulavi Marouf, the mullah in charge of the Spin Jumad madrasa in the town of Khairabad.

They say an “uncle” in Kabul phoned Marouf asking him to send some physically weak children for a couple of days of manual labour, unloading a delivery of car batteries from lorries.

None of the boys, who are Afghans but have lived in Pakistan all their lives, has an address or phone number for the man. Nor did they think it necessary to tell their parents they were going to Kabul.

“Our family is very poor,” said Niaz Mohammad, a nine-year-old who said he used to help his father beg. “When I was promised 50,000 rupees [£360] to go to Afghanistan, I went immediately.”

But they all describe the madrasa as an institution that cultivated in them a hatred for American soldiers in Afghanistan. “All the time in Friday prayers the maulavi talked about the Americans in Afghanistan and he told us that we should do jihad, especially on Fridays,” he said.

It is feared that hundreds of children may have been radicalised and turned into bombers in what Haneef Atmar, Afghanistan’s former interior minister, describes as “hate madrasas”.

Suicide bombing has also developed a sinister glamour among the youth of the Pakistan’s tribal areas. A video in which a group of children enact a suicide bombing has circulated widely in Pakistan in February, sparking public alarm at how jihad appears to have reached the playground.

It also seems to have reached the Kabul juvenile detention centre where staff are trying to give the mix of criminals and would-be jihadists a proper education. “When I told my cellmates I refused to do a suicide attack, none of them could understand why I didn’t do it,” said Mohammad.

Source: The Guardian – 17.05.2011