Pakistani security forces fighting Taliban militants in and around the Swat Valley have rescued nearly a dozen boys brainwashed into becoming suicide bombers, officials said.
A senior security officer in North West Frontier Province said nine boys were found during raids, while two more had voluntarily surrendered, and an army commander in Swat spoke of more being handed over by their families.
“They have been brainwashed in such a way that they even call their parents infidels,” said Bashir Bilour, senior minister in the provincial government.
Bilour said the boys were shown films about oppression of Muslims in the Palestinian Territories and Indian-held Kashmir, and were given purported religious instructions to convince them that they would go to heaven if they killed enemies of Islam.
Brigadier Tahir Hameed, an officer leading military operations in Mingora, Swat’s main town, said the Taliban had forced many families to let them take their boys.
He said some had since returned to their parents, who in turn handed them over to the authorities because of their brainwashed state. The government was working out how to rehabilitate the boys, aged between nine and 18.
The Taliban has regularly claimed responsibility for suicide attacks carried out by boys both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistani security forces have shown Western journalists locations where children were said to have been trained, although there was no independent corroboration available.
The military launched an offensive almost three months ago against the Taliban stronghold after the militants crept into the neighboring valley of Buner, just 100km northwest of Islamabad.
Around 20,000 troops have been deployed in the Swat operation. But the guerrillas are putting up resistance in the north and even the outskirts of Mingora remain insecure.
Villagers found the decapitated body of a policeman on the edge of the town yesterday. He had gone missing four days earlier.