Captured videos show ‘al-Qaeda children’ training

American forces in Baghdad on Wednesday warned of a ”disturbing trend in the use and exploitation of children by al-Qaeda in Iraq”, after discovering videos showing young boys being trained in kidnapping and assassination.

The discovery came as the United States revealed to Britain’s Guardian newspaper that coalition forces are currently holding approximately 600 juvenile detainees between the ages of 13 and 17. It is not known how many juveniles are being held by the Iraqi authorities.

In US detention facilities in Iraq, the young detainees undergo a programme of rehabilitation, including access to basic education, skills and religious lessons from moderate imams and mullahs.

In Baghdad on Wednesday, Rear Admiral Gregory Smith told reporters that five videos had been discovered during a raid on a suspected al-Qaeda safe house in the town of Khan Bani Saad in the volatile Diyala province north-east of Baghdad.

In one of the videos about 20 boys, many as young as 11 years old, are seen wearing ski masks and bristling with pistols, assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. In some cases their guns appear to be larger than the youngsters carrying them.

The videos were most probably part of a propaganda effort by al-Qaeda to recruit and train young people across Iraq, he added. ”There are families out there where the adult male is in al-Qaeda and the child is growing up in that environment. They constantly refer to them as the new generation of mujahedin,” he said.

The date stamp on one of the videos, the contents of which could not be verified, suggested it was taken last summer, but neither the location of the video nor the identity of the children involved is known, Smith said.

The US military said another raid on an al-Qaeda in Iraq cell in the town of Muqdadiya had turned up a film script depicting scenes of children carrying out acts of terror. ”The script was to include children interrogating and executing victims, planting improvised explosive devices and conducting sniper attacks,” Smith said. A picture captured during raids nearby showed a young boy brandishing a pistol and wearing a suicide vest.

Smith said al-Qaeda sympathisers had also entered schools to disseminate their propaganda. He drew attention to what he said were 5 000 websites that he said were sympathetic to the al-Qaeda ideology and were aimed at a young audience.

He said he could not estimate how many children have fallen under the group’s control. US and Iraqi security officials have said juveniles have long been used by insurgents either as spotters for groups detonating roadside bombs, or to carry weapons and explosives. But the release of the videos by the US and Iraqi officials marked an escalation in the propaganda war with al-Qaeda in Iraq.

General Mohammed al-Askary, the Ministry of Defence spokesperson, said Iraqi forces had also noted a rise in the number of kidnappings of children by insurgents to finance their operations. A separate video shown to reporters on Wednesday included footage of what he said was an operation by Iraqi forces to rescue an 11-year old boy who had been kidnapped in the northern province of Kirkuk. ”The kidnappers had demanded $100 000 ransom or else they would behead the boy,” he said.

Askary said there had been two recent suicide bombings by 15-year-old boys, while the number of attacks involving women had also increased. ”It obviously shows the desperation of al-Qaeda, they are dying in Iraq,” he said.

Excerpts shown to reporters on Wednesday appear to show hooded and armed boys during training. In one clip, they stop and surround a man on a bicycle. Another shows them stopping a car, hauling out the passenger and making him kneel down in the street with a gun to his head.

The boys are also shown practising how to storm a building, and raiding a house containing a sleeping family. — Â

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