THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Taliban recruited children, officials say

Allegedly used young people as suicide bombers

By Asif Shahzad
Associated Press / July 29, 2009

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Security forces have rescued several children forcibly recruited by the Taliban, allegedly to be used as fighters or suicide bombers, and there could be hundreds more of them, officials said yesterday.

The claim came as a suicide car bomber rammed his vehicle into a checkpoint in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region, causing an explosion that killed two police and wounded five other security officials, authorities said.

Pakistani troops are engaged in offensives against the Taliban in various areas along the lawless border with Afghanistan, fighting militants often drawn from among the local communities.

Lieutenant General Nadeem Ahmed, who heads a special support group tasked with handling the return of people displaced by three months of fighting in the Swat Valley and surrounding areas, said he had met with nine boys rescued from the Taliban.

“They have been brainwashed and trained as suicide bombers, but the nine who I met seemed willing to get back to normal life,’’ he told Pakistani state-run television.

Ahmed’s deputy, Lieutenant Colonel Waseem Shahid, later clarified that it had not been determined whether all the boys were being trained as suicide bombers.

“What we are saying is that they are Taliban recruits. They are trained. They could have been used for any purpose,’’ Shahid told the Associated Press.

Ahmed said on state-run TV that the children had told him there were many more, possibly hundreds, like them.

“It seems that there are some 300 to 400 such children who the Taliban had taken forcibly or who they were training,’’ Ahmed said.

Major Nasir Ali, spokesman for forces in Swat, told AP that most of the several children who had been rescued were taken from a Taliban training camp in Swat after a firefight, although some had turned themselves in later.

He did not say when the rescue occurred.

“The account we are getting from these boys is that there could be many more such cases, and we believe that most of them have dispersed among the public,’’ he said.

Ahmed said that a psychiatrist would examine the children to recommend how they should be reintegrated into society.

“It will be a big challenge’’ to reverse the indoctrination they received, he noted.

He said the boys had sometimes been lured by offers of food, but that they had been underfed and some had fallen ill.

Militant spokesmen could not be reached yesterday for comment on the allegations.

On Sunday, authorities in Swat’s main town of Mingora presented several teenagers alleged to have been forcibly recruited by the Taliban. Seven boys, their lower faces covered to prevent them being recognized, were shown to reporters.

One, a 16-year-old Shaukat Ali, said the militants abducted him while he was playing cricket. He said they told him they wanted him to be “a warrior’’ and offered to pay his family for his services.

Bashir Ahmad Bilour, senior minister of North West Frontier Province where Swat is located, said that dozens of children had been rescued by security forces and ranged in age from 6 to 15.