Teenagers recruited, trained as suicide bombers

Staff Report

For CentralAsiaOnline.com 2011-04-11

Children, some as young as 10, attend a Taliban-run suicide bomber training centre in Spinaki, South Waziristan. The Pakistani Army recovered this video showing a masked instructor and armed guards when it liberated the area in 2008. [YouTube frame grab]

First in a series

On April 3, two suicide bombers struck the Sakhi Sarwar Shrine in Dera Ghazi Khan, killing 50 worshippers and wounding more than 100 others.

The bombers who died – and two would-be bombers arrested at the shrine – were all teenagers. In 2010 suicide bombings in Pakistan reached a deadly peak. Just 49 bombings claimed 1,167 lives, according to official statistics. This represents a startling increase over 2009, when 76 suicide bombings killed 949.

Perhaps even more troubling than the numbers of victims is that many of the suicide bombings are committed by teenagers – usually boys – abducted and brainwashed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Taliban sources have claimed to have anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand teenagers trained as suicide bombers, while government sources say as many as 5,000 teenagers have undergone training by militants.

Pakistan’s children don't sow terror just at home. About 10% of the local suicide bombers are used locally while the rest are sent across the border to Afghanistan, one official of the Forensic Science Section of the Peshawar Police Department said.

Today, Central Asia Online begins a six-part series examining how the Taliban transforms teenagers into walking bombs ready to end their own lives.


The process begins with recruitment, which usually means kidnapping and brainwashing. Teenagers in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are kidnapped by the TTP while on their way to school or work, or plucked from a madrassa where they have been studying, and sent to one of a number of training centres in areas under Taliban control.

The children of the poor are usually more vulnerable to abduction and training as suicide bombers. Poor parents lack the resources to pay a ransom to free their child. And teenagers from impoverished homes are more emotionally vulnerable to the TTP’s brainwashing because they have little hope for a good life – and have received little or no education, leaving them ill-prepared to stand up to the Taliban’s techniques.


Teenagers already studying in a madrassa, especially one run by extremists, may be more ready than peers attending a non-religious school to become a militant combatant or suicide bomber, especially after five or 10 years of study.

“A cleric has plenty of time to mould them to his way of thinking,” said Abdul Basit, an expert on suicide bombings at the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies in Islamabad. “The child sees no life outside the madrassa. It is everything – provider of food, education and social security. It’s the world he knows.”

Kept in isolation, the children receive a distorted view of the teachings of Islam and hear that it is the duty of Muslims to kill infidels. In some cases they learn it is no sin to kill other Muslims – as martyrs, they, too, will go straight to paradise along with the bomber. And once they reach paradise, rivers of milk and honey and beautiful virgins await.

Police remove explosives from Umar, 14, who failed to detonate his suicide vest at the Sakhi Sarwar Shrine in Dera Ghazi Khan April 3 after he was wounded by a grenade. Umar later said as many as 400 suicide bombers – many of them teenagers – are being trained in North Waziristan. [REUTERS/Sheikh Asif Raza]

That training can turn them into religious fanatics convinced they’re following Islam.

Umar, one of the teenagers arrested at the Sakhi Sarwar Shrine, was not ready to give up even after one of his grenades blew off his hand, said Khalid Mahmood, Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), Dera Ghazi Khan.

“When we captured him, he was shouting to let him free since he wanted to be a martyr and it’s a moral duty to send all policemen and army personnel to hell,” Khalid said. “It portrays the level of indoctrination he had received.” Some don’t accept the Taliban’s dogma, and in those cases militants threaten, beat or forcibly drug children into compliance.

Families suffer

Often the families do not know what has become of their children – until it’s too late. In a society where children play an important role in financially and emotionally supporting the entire family, their loss is especially devastating.

The 15-year-old son of Allah Dad Khan in a village near Mardan disappeared on his way to work one day. Allah Dad learned his son had carried out a suicide bombing in Afghanistan only when the Taliban offered him some money as compensation. Allah Dad still can’t fully accept that his son won’t return one day.


Not every child trained as a suicide bomber is sent to blow up others. A number have been freed after the army has retaken territory from the militants.

The Mishal school in Barikot Tehsil of Swat is one of a number of government-run schools that work with teens freed from the grip of the Taliban. Psychologists and others work with the children to correct the misperceptions of Islam the Taliban has given them. They also receive vocational training to give them hope for a better future.

Regrets of a lone survivor

Central Asia Online’s series will end with an interview with Zara Jan Khan. In many ways, Zara Jan is a typical Taliban-recruited teenager. Uneducated and from a poor family, he agreed to Taliban training because militants assured him he would be killing infidels. On February 19, Zara Jan took part in the assault on the Jalalabad, Afghanistan, branch of Kabul Bank. The only militant to survive that attack, he now knows the Taliban misled him and has come to regret his actions.

This Article Taken From: CentralAsiaOnline.com

Useful Link: http://centralasiaonline.com/cocoon/caii/xhtml/en_GB/features/caii/features/pakistan/main/2011/04/11/feature-02

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