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Taliban uses kidnapping, promises of Paradise to recruit teens
Easier to brainwash youth psychiatrist says
By Ashfaq Yusufzai
Second in a series
PESHAWAR – “I was picked up by militants and taken to a place where I, along with a dozen others, was shown video films of the training of the suicide bombers, which impressed me a great deal,” Zakaullah Khan told Central Asia Online by telephone.
Khan is among 140 young militants who recently completed a deradicalisation programme at the army-run Sabaoon School in Malakand.
“Initially, I was upset when I was kidnapped by the Taliban, but later I felt satisfied because I was told that suicide bombing is the easiest way to Paradise,” he said.
Today, after completing the six-month programme at Sabaoon, Khan has learned job skills and is returning to a normal life.
Most bombers are 12 to 18
Psychiatrist Dr. Mian Iftikhar Hussain, a leading specialist on the psychological problems of the militancy-hit Malakand Division, says a majority of suicide bombers are between 12 and 18 years old.
“It is easier to brainwash young people than old ones. The fresh minds are empty and can be filled with any stuff you want,” he said.
Aside from being easier to brainwash, children arouse less suspicion. On February 10, a teenage suicide bomber wearing a school uniform targeted an army parade, killing 20 cadets in Mardan.
“Children (bombers) are the integral and very effective weapons with which militants can hit at will at any place of their choosing. Children are also trained in kidnapping, assassination and detaining individuals,” Brig. (ret.) Mehmood Shah, former secretary of security for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), said.
Poverty and a lack of education are key weaknesses used by the Taliban to lure youths – and kidnapping is the Taliban's primary technique for finding youths to train.
“(The) soft targets are the poor and (uneducated) children,” said Iftikhar, who is involved in rehabilitating would-be bombers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA.
Brainwashing in extremist madrassas
While some children are snatched off the street, others come from madrassas – especially those run by extremists or by imams with poor knowledge of the Koran. Students receive an inaccurate or purposely distorted version of Islam and its teachings, officials said, and that leaves them vulnerable to militants.
“My son was at a Darul Uloom, and we thought that he was studying the Koran. One day the Taliban informed us that (my son) was going to take part in a suicide attack, which saddened us,” said Rehman Shah, a shopkeeper in Mamond Tehsil of Bajaur Agency.
Shah begged the Taliban for his son Javid’s life, he said. “Ultimately, the Taliban set free my son.”
But his son, already brainwashed by the Taliban, “was unhappy as he wanted to blow himself up at any cost,” Shah said.
Family members took 14-year-old Javid to Peshawar and exposed him to entertainment, films and the simple enjoyment of bazaars and city life to undo the Taliban’s isolation and brainwashing.
“Now I am convinced that I was wrong. I should study to help my poor parents,” Javid said recently.
Abducting children for bomber training
The Taliban also abduct poor street children for use as suicide bombers.
“Four children between 11 and 15 years have gone missing in Bajaur in the past two months,” Political Administration Tehsildar Shoaib Khan said in March. “Their parents are sure that their children have been picked up by the Taliban because they were all from poor families.”
The Taliban usually kidnap the rich for ransom and poor children for suicide bomber training, Shoaib said.
Authorities traced three kidnapped Dir District children to a South Waziristan militant training camp, intelligence officials said. The parents pleaded for their sons' release and ultimately paid Rs. 100,000 ransom (US $1,176) for each boy.
But others learn their child's fate only after it's too late. “In August 2009, a dozen men of a jihadist faction walked into my home and offered me Rs. 100,000 (US $1,176),” said Juma Khan, a resident of a small village in Charsadda District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “They told me that my son had successfully carried out a suicide bombing and had killed 14 NATO soldiers in Afghanistan.”
Juma’s son Abdur Rauf, 15, had disappeared in February that year. “The group congratulated me that my son had earned Paradise,” Khan said. “I returned the money and kept silent because any hue and cry would have made the lives of my other three sons worse.”
“He was not the type to kill innocent people,” Rauf’s older brother Jehan Dad said. “Rauf was a class 10 student, but poverty always haunted him. He might have been lured by militants by (with money) and subsequently brainwashed.”
Taliban militant Qari Hussain, believed killed by security forces, once claimed that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan have more than 250 suicide bombers ready to sacrifice themselves. Most of them are teenagers, experts say.
Parents feel powerless
“Several children have been picked up from schools and off the streets in Malakand, Dara Adamkhel, North and South Waziristan and Bajaur tribal agencies by militants but their parents cannot do anything against the powerful Taliban,” Mehmood Shah, the former FATA security secretary, told Central Asia Online. He knows many families with missing children who are afraid to tell police, he said.
“On August 8 last year, some unknown people kidnapped my 13-year-old brother (Jangriz), a class 8 student, while he was returning from school in Tank District,” said Mamraiz, a schoolteacher from Tank. “We knew that he had been kidnapped by the Taliban, but we stayed silent because we can’t challenge the powerful extremists. In January this year, we were informed by the Taliban that Jangriz had killed several policemen in a suicide attack in Hangu District.”