Months after pardon, would-be Afghan child bombers arrested again

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REPORTING FROM KABUL, AFGHANISTAN -- Six months ago, in a moving ceremony held during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, President Hamid Karzai went on national television to pardon about two dozen young boys, the youngest only 8, who had been caught trying to carry out suicide attacks. On Monday, authorities in Kandahar province reported that two of the children, a pair of 10-year-olds, had been rearrested last week, apparently intending once again to carry out bombings.

Provincial spokesman Zalmay Ayubi said the two 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, named Azizullah, as saying that the pair had undergone madrassa training in Pakistan, and that mullahs told them that when they set off their bombs, they would be unharmed by the blast.

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, which cited officials from the National Directorate for Security, the country’s main intelligence agency.


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

During the televised pardon of the would-be bombers back in August, Karzai was shown talking with the boys, many of whom were under the age of 12, about their experiences.

Prior to 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 bombs, and of receiving drugs beforehand, which they were told was medicine to make them strong.

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

Human rights groups have strongly denounced the use of children and teenagers in attacks, and at least a dozen such incidents have been documented in recent years.

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 had been wrong.

-- Laura King