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Afghan intelligence: Taliban using child bombers

The orders from their religious teacher were clear: Go to Afghanistan, strap on a suicide vest and kill foreign forces. With that, 9-year-old Ghulam Farooq left his home in Pakistan with three other would-be boy bombers and headed into eastern Afghanistan.

world Updated: May 15, 2011 19:14 IST

The orders from their religious teacher were clear: Go to Afghanistan, strap on a suicide vest and kill foreign forces.

With that, 9-year-old Ghulam Farooq left his home in Pakistan with three other would-be boy bombers and headed into eastern Afghanistan.

They were told there would be two members of the Taliban waiting for them at the Torkham border crossing in Nangarhar province. Instead, members of the Afghan intelligence service who had been tipped to the boys' plans arrested them at the border.

"Our mullah told us that when we carried out our suicide attacks, all the people around us would die, but we would stay alive," Farooq said on Saturday, sitting inside a juvenile detention facility in the Afghan capital.

He was one of five alleged suicide bombers - all boys in adolescence or even younger - whom the Afghan intelligence service paraded before reporters, photographers and cameramen at a news conference on May 7 in an effort to turn public opinion against the Taliban.

Farooq and the other boys are being held at a detention facility that resembles a vocational training center. There are no armed guards, and the facility has classrooms and playgrounds.

During a visit to the center, Farooq was smiling and said that he was going to school and that he and the other boys were being given the opportunity to learn carpet weaving, carpentry and other handicrafts. The facility has dozens of boys, most detained in criminal cases.

Afghan intelligence officials say the Taliban turns to young boys because they are easier to recruit than adults and tend to believe what recruiters tell them.

"The Taliban are recruiting children in their ranks and using them to carry out suicide attacks in Afghanistan," Latifullah Mashal, a spokesman for the Afghan intelligence service, told reporters. "These innocent children have been cheated and sent to Afghanistan."

The Taliban denies the accusation. In a statement issued a week ago, Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said the insurgency's code of conduct prohibits young people from staying in military centers with fighters. Instead, he alleged that the youths were working for the Afghan police and public and private security companies.

"These children have joined the ranks of the enemy on the enemy's luring, taking advantage of their ignorance and lack of knowledge," he said.