By Fu Yiming and Gao Shan,Xinhua,
Baghdad : A boy masquerading as a flower seller blew himself up last September outside the house of Sheikh Imad Jassem, an Awakening Council leader in Tarmiya, 25 km north of here.
The 10-year-old boy had been stalking Jassem for three days before tripping on his flip-flops several meters away from his target. The bomb exploded prematurely, seriously wounding the leader.
The innocent and immature young have been recruited and trained to be suicide bombers of the Al Qaeda network in Iraq to attack Iraqi high-profile officials as well as civilians.
Since the beginning of US-led war in Iraq in 2003, the war-torn country is plagued by countless explosions and attacks, among which the suicide bombing are the most fatal, killing some 600,000 Iraqi civilians and over 4,200 US soldiers.
The terror group started its first recruiting programme of women and children in 2005, when dozens were brought to a training camp in Doura district in southern Baghdad.
“They hit both Sunni and Shia crowded areas, just to incite sectarian hatred among Iraqis,” Mulla Nadhim al-Jubouri, now the local leader of Sahwa in Dhuluiyah town, 90 km north of Baghdad, told Xinhua.
The Sahwa, also known as Sons of Iraq movement or the Awakening Councils group, was established in the Anbar province west of Baghdad in 2006, when its leaders became dismayed by Al Qaeda’s brutality and religious zealotry in Iraq. The group now enjoys strong support from the US.
Because Al Qaeda has lost many fighters due to the crackdown of the Iraqi government and US troops, “they started to recruit children,” al-Jubouri said.
The terror outfit uses female suicide bombers as Muslim women can’t be body-searched by the male police according to Islamic culture and they could easily escape security frisking. Children could also easily pass the security checks because of their apparent innocence.
The terrorists look for young people and children who have lost their families in strikes by US soldiers and Iraqi security forces, he added.
They told the young that they can “retaliate the death of their loved ones” after being trained, al-Jubouri said.
The Al Qaeda recruiters also take advantage of young men and children who are suffering from unemployment and in dire need of money by giving them “large amount of money they had never thought of”.
In December, Major Al Hing from the 2nd Striker Brigade 25th Infantry Division said they discovered last March and April “a conglomeration of cells … associated with the recruitment and implementation of youth suicide bombers”.
“In Tarmiya, we saw the Lions’ Club, Fatah al-Islam, Youth of Heaven and Youth of Paradise” and also similar children suicide cells in the Taji area and in Falahat, Al Hing said.
Mid-November last year witnessed a raid on a major Al Qaeda hideout north of Baghdad, where a computer memory disk containing blueprint for the training and recruitment of children was found.
After being recruited, the youngsters, mostly ranging from nine to 15 years, stay under restrict observation of Al Qaeda members. They are accompanied by other members day and night.
Under complete monitoring, those children are “brainwashed” by being repeatedly taught “religious lessons on the Jihad (Holy War)”, al-Jubouri said.
Al Qaeda members “chose those item of Islamic religious doctrines that encourage people to die for their rights”, he said.
“Through religious lessons, movies about previous suicide attacks and that the suicide bomber is going immediately to paradise, the children feel it is an honour to sacrifice,” he added.
On the night before the selected suicide bomber, who they call “hero”, goes for his “great mission”, a religious ceremony was conducted at the camp and all members of the cell stay awake, praying and hailing for the person who “would go to paradise”, al-Jubouri said.
The cell members then give a send off to the bomber “in a way similar to sending off a bridegroom for a marriage”, he added.
However, not all the children bombers undertake the task willingly. Once those children were recruited and trained, they have no choice but being forced to do so.
“Children were threatened that if they do not obey the orders, video tapes showing their training in Al Qaeda camps would be sent to the local police or the Americans,” al-Jubouri said.
The children were often threatened that their parents would be killed if they won’t obey the orders and willingly become suicide bombers, he said.
Many children were killed or captured by the soldiers after their failed attempts to protect thier family members, said a source familiar with the crisis.