‘Suicide nurseries’ of Pakistan turn children into bombers

April 26th, 2009 - 2:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban By Nadeem Sarwar
Tank (Pakistan), April 26 (DPA) Haneef Mehsud was a normal teenager who spent most of his time hanging out with friends and playing cricket before he was recruited by the Taliban and turned into a suicide bomber.

Less than a month after his 17th birthday, Haneef killed two soldiers when he rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into an army convoy in late 2008 on a road not far from his home in Pekai, a hamlet in the militancy-plagued South Waziristan region of northern Pakistan.

“We tried to stop him when he visited the family two weeks before the attack and informed us that he was soon going to embrace shahadat (martyrdom),” recalled Haneef’s father, Ghazi Mehsud.

“I don’t know what they (the Taliban) did to my son,” Ghazi said as tears rolled down his cheeks and disappeared in his long grey beard. “His mother and sisters were crying, but he stood there like a stone. He only requested us to forgive him in the name of the love we had for him and left.”

Ghazi moved to the neighbouring district of Tank in the North-West Frontier Province, which is also the gateway to South Waziristan, to save his second teenage son from the influence of his fellow tribesman and local warlord Baitullah Mehsud, who he blames for Haneef’s recruitment and death.

But hundreds more children are still undergoing brainwashing at dozens of “suicide nurseries” run by the ethnic Pashtun militant commander.

Mehsud, in his 30s, has emerged as the most dangerous militant commander in recent years. He heads Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, an umbrella group for around a dozen Pakistani militant outfits and has close links with Al Qaeda.

The notorious commander is believed to have been behind several dozen suicide bombings across the country, including the one that killed former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in late 2007.

During the Bhutto case investigations, the authorities detained Aitzaz Shah, 15, in North-West Frontier Province. Shah told the investigators that he was deployed as the “back-up bomber” for Bhutto’s assassination by Mehsud’s men.

In January 2008, during a short offensive, the military discovered a suicide nursery in the Spinkai area of South Waziristan.

Four months later, the military showed reporters video footage of a classroom where a masked teacher taught children how to carry out a suicide attack. The children, sitting in rows, were wearing white headbands inscribed with Koran verses.

Major General Athar Abbas, the army’s chief spokesman, said that soldiers had rounded up over 50 boys who were undergoing suicide attack training.

The training centre was reopened months later after the military retreated from the area under a controversial peace deal with the Taliban.

According to intelligence estimates, more than 5,000 child suicide bombers between 10 and 17 have so far been trained by the militants.

Most of them are dispatched to Afghanistan to target international troops and Afghan security forces, but some are deployed for strikes inside Pakistan.

On April 6, a child suicide bomber blew himself up at a Shiite mosque in the Chakwal district of Punjab province, killing 26 people and injuring more than 50.

Most of the young suicide bombers come from Islamic seminaries, or madrassas, in tribal regions and rural areas of North-West Frontier Province, where they are admitted by their parents who do not have the money to educate them in mainstream schools.

“The children who are fed on charity money in madrassas have a very strong sense of injustice, and militant trainers cleverly turn these feelings into hate against Western countries and their local supporters, which they say are suppressing the poor Muslims across the world,” said Mian Aftab Ahmad, the head of the Pakistan Psychological Association.

After indoctrination in a rigid interpretation of Islam, some seminaries provide initial training in conventional warfare. Only the most motivated are selected as suicide bombers.

Zakaullah, 15, was chosen to be one of them, but he survived by accident. His parents moved from the Bajaur tribal district, which borders Afghanistan and the North-West Frontier Province, during a military operation before their son could be launched.

“I can use a Kalashnikov, rocket launcher, and know how to plant a mine,” said Zakaullah with pride as he polished a pair of shoes at a downtown market in the garrison town of Rawalpindi.

“I was also selected for suicide training, but my family moved here,” he added.

Zakaullah’s father, a cobbler, is happy that his son is away from his madrassa in Bajaur and spends much of his time helping him. But he is struggling with Zakaullah’s rehabilitation, for which the state is providing no assistance.

Zakaullah has bought a cassette player and listens to only recorded Taliban sermons he has received from a friend in Bajaur. “We are concerned about him,” his father said.

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