By Laura King, www.LATimes.com
Six months ago, in a moving ceremony held during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, President Hamid Karzai went on Afghanistan television to pardon two dozen boys, the youngest only 8 years old, who had been caught trying to carry out suicide attacks.
In mid-February, 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 that the boys each had a vest full of explosives when they were detained along with three adult militant suspects, and that they told intelligence officers they had been recruited for suicide missions.
A statement from provincial authorities in Kandahar quoted one of the boys, who was named Azizullah, as saying the pair had undergone training at a madrassa, or religious school, in Pakistan. The mullahs told them that the boys would be unharmed by the blast when they set off their bombs, Azizullah reportedly said.
The other child, called Nasibullah, told authorities he had been taught how to detonate a vest full of explosives. “They showed me how to press the button in my hand,” he said, according to the statement issued by the provincial government. The intelligence service said that 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 the boys about their experiences. Before the pardon, the youngsters had been held in a juvenile detention center in the capital.
The children told Karzai of having been told to try to approach foreign troops and set off their explosion 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 said they 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 NATO force, Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, said the coalition is “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 and retraining. 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.