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Afghanistan arrests preteen would-be bombers months after pardon

Afghan police arrest two 10-year-old would-be bombers. The boys were pardoned in previous attempts, but mullahs in Pakistan told them to try again, officials say.

February 13, 2012|By Laura King, Los Angeles Times
  • Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Six months ago, he went on television to pardon about two dozen boys who had been caught trying to carry out suicide attacks. Two of the boys have been caught trying to again carry out an attack, officials said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Six months ago, he went on television to… (Ian Langsdon, European…)

Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan — Six months ago, in a moving ceremony during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, President Hamid Karzai went on Afghan television to pardon about two dozen young boys, the youngest only 8 years old, who had been caught trying to carry out suicide attacks.

On Monday, authorities in Kandahar province reported that two of the children, 10-year-olds, had been rearrested last week, apparently intending again to carry out bombings.

Provincial spokesman Zalmay Ayubi said the boys each had a vest full of explosives when they were detained along with three adults suspected of being militants, and that they told intelligence officers they had been recruited for suicide missions.

A statement from provincial officials quoted one of the boys, named Azizullah, as saying the pair had undergone training at a madrasa, or religious school, in Pakistan. The mullahs there told the boys they would be unharmed when they set off their bombs, Azizullah reportedly said.

The other child, named Nasibullah, told authorities he had been taught how to detonate an explosives-laden vest. "They showed me how to press the button in my hand," he said, according to a statement issued by the provincial government, which cited officials from the National Directorate for Security, the country's main intelligence agency.

The agency said one of the boys was from Pakistan's Baluchistan province, across the border from southern Afghanistan, and that the other was from Afghanistan's Paktia province, which borders Pakistan's tribal areas.

During the emotional televised pardon of the would-be bombers in August, Karzai was shown talking with all the boys about their experiences. Before the pardon, the youngsters had been held in a juvenile detention center in the capital.

The children spoke to Karzai of having been told to try to approach foreign troops and set off their explosives, and of receiving drugs beforehand, which they were told was medicine to make them strong.

Authorities in Kandahar said the rearrested boys expressed regret and hoped they would be pardoned again.

Human rights groups have strongly denounced the use of children in attacks, and at least a dozen such incidents have been documented in recent years. A spokesman for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization force, Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, said Western troops had not been involved in apprehending the boys, but that the coalition was "outraged by the Taliban's continued use of children" as potential suicide bombers.

Karzai's office said an investigation had been launched to find out how the two boys were induced to again attempt suicide bombings, and that it was hoped they could be given an education. Officials at the Kabul juvenile detention center said at the time of the mass pardon that the boys had been brainwashed and that it was difficult to make them see that their actions were wrong.

laura.king@latimes.com

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