1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Children used as suicide bombers

Vitaly Volkov / jsDecember 30, 2015

Terrorists in Afghanistan and other Central Asian countries are training children to blow themselves up in suicide bomb attacks. Minors are kidnapped or sold and then taken to terrorist training camps.

An Afghan boy who was arrested before plotting to stage a suicide attack is photographed with his hands covering his face at a rehabilitation center in Kabul in this archive image from 2011.
Image: AP

European media outlets have often reported that the so-called "Islamic State" militant group has set up special terrorist training camps for children and adolescents in Iraq and Syria. The practice has been around for some time in Central Asia. Large numbers of terrorist camps can be found there, above all, in border regions.

"The Taliban has an important training facility in the northern Afghanistan province of Kunduz. There they not only train adults, but children as well. These learn the skills needed to become suicide bombers," Andrey Serenko, expert at the Center for Studies of Modern Afghanistan in Moscow, tells DW. "Children between the ages of six and eight, for instance, are trained to install roadside bombs." It generally takes between one and six years to train a child.

Taliban 'trains children for suicide attacks'

"There is a Taliban camp in the Ghormach District, in the northwestern Badghis Province," says the expert. "It is run by a rather well-known teacher named Mullah Qayyum. He prepares children for suicide bombing missions. Most of the children there have either been kidnapped or sold by their own parents."

Some children are sold at market for up to $1,000 (915 euros). Another Taliban suicide bomber training camp is located in the northern province of Sar-e Pol, where many of the trainers come from Pakistan. Compared to the Kunduz camp, training at Sar-e Pol is very rapid, taking just three months. The Center for Studies of Modern Afghanistan counted up to seven children there in November.

Terrorists use children because they can gain the trust of potential victims more readily, said Natalia Kharitonova of the Crisis Situations Research Center (CSRC) in Malta. It was also easier for children to get close to potential target areas. "They are more effective than adult suicide bombers, but their use has its limits. For instance, they really can't carry out car bombings," Kharitonova said.

Andrej Serenko
Andrej Serenko says children as young as six are trained to install landminesImage: Andrej Serenko

That could well be the reason that prices paid for child suicide bombers are lower than those paid for adults in Afghanistan and Pakistan. "Children are usually outfitted with IEDs (improvised explosive devices), which are remotely detonated. Sometimes the children don't even know what they are actually doing," Natalia Kharitonova told DW.

Many kidnappings in Afghanistan

The crisis research expert theorized that many of the children at the camps are those of fighters who had been killed in battle. Since their ongoing care cost a lot of money, she suspected that such children were sold off as soon as possible. She made that assumption based on reports from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Andrey Serenko believed "Islamic State" was preparing suicide attacks using women and children in Syria. However, only men were being trained in "IS" camps in Afghanistan right now. There was information suggesting that there were children at these camps, yet it is unclear what their role was, Serenko said. "The fact of the matter is that 'IS' has not yet used children as suicide bombers in Afghanistan - the Taliban has," Serenko added.

Natalia Kharitonova
Natalia Kharitonova says children may be able to get closer to targetsImage: privat

In his opinion, the targeted training of suicide bombers - and especially children - could be traced back to the influence that the Arab terror organization al-Qaeda has had on Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Russian expert suggests that Uzbekistan's role should be taken into account as well.

"One has to be aware of the fact that members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) were thought to be competent suicide trainers while they were in Afghanistan." Therefore, he assumed that some members of the IMU have also become members of "IS."