As part of the traditional celebration of the end of Ramadan, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has pardoned prisoners from Kabul's juvenile detention center. This time it was two dozen youths who had been arrested for planned or attempted suicide bomb attacks, and many were under the age of 12.
Karzai presented the captured suicide bombers on national television — the youngest only 8 years old.
One 11-year-old said that his instructions were "just get close to a group of foreign soldiers and touch these two wires together." His Taliban trainers in Quetta, Pakistan, told him he would be able to detonate his vest and kill the foreign occupiers without dying himself.
Another bomber, 15, told Karzai that his trainers told him he needed an injection because he was sick just before he was sent to make his attack. Many of the kids said they were drugged before their operation.
Most of the pardoned young men had spent the past several months in Kabul's juvenile detention center, Badam Bagh, which means Almond Garden. The guards carry switches that resemble short lengths of cable, but the boys can still be unruly. In one math class, boys whistle every time the teacher turns his back.
Deprogramming Proves Difficult
The Taliban brainwashes these young children, says Abdul Kayum Bahadri, deputy director of the prison. He says Taliban militants are very effective at convincing children that their religion sanctions what they are doing, or that they will be rewarded in heaven. It's hard to deprogram the young would-be killers, Bahadri says.
"I think some of them really regret it, attempting to become suicide bombers," he says. "On the other hand, some of them were so much indoctrinated that even if they had spent a whole year or even two years here, I don't think it would have changed them."
Several high-profile incidents this year have involved children who carried out suicide missions — including a 12-year-old boy who killed a government official and several bystanders with a suicide bomb. Some of the children Karzai pardoned had been arrested crossing from Pakistan to Afghanistan.
Karzai said he would personally review all the cases of juvenile suicide bombers and would try to get the children into schools. But even with the Afghan president, and on national television, one youngster rejected Karzai's gesture.
"I am a Muslim, and there are still infidels in this land. With God's help, I will continue to fight against them," said one 15-year-old boy.
That simple logic resonates with many people across the country. An Afghan government spokesman later said that particular would-be bomber was not released from custody.
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