By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, February 7, 2008
BAGHDAD, Feb. 6 -- The Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq is training boys as young as 10 to kidnap and kill, U.S. and Iraqi officials asserted Wednesday, showing propaganda videos seized from suspected insurgent hideouts that depict masked boys wielding guns and kicking down doors.
"Al-Qaeda in Iraq wants to poison the next generation of Iraqis," Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a U.S. military spokesman, told reporters.
The five videos were found during a raid Dec. 4 in Khan Bani Saad, north of Baghdad, in the insurgent hotbed of Diyala province. The authenticity of the videos could not be independently verified, nor was it clear where or when the videos were made.
In the videos, boys in black balaclavas and soccer jerseys jump out of a blue van, hop over a mud wall and storm a house where a family is asleep. In another scene, boys are seen ordering a man out of his car and escorting him away at gunpoint. Adults speaking Arabic with an Iraqi accent are heard giving the boys instructions.
"We believe this video was produced to be used as propaganda to convince youth to join al-Qaeda," Smith said.
U.S. soldiers, he said, have previously found propaganda material involving children, but not in the detail seen in the videos. In a Dec. 8 operation, also in Diyala province, U.S. troops seized a movie script with scenes of children interrogating and executing victims, Smith said.
Smith described two incidents involving teenage suicide bombers, but he said that such cases were not a trend. He could not offer statistics on the number of children who have joined the insurgency. He added that the children in the videos did not appear to have been kidnapped or forced to act like insurgents. None of the boys was in custody, Smith said.
"As we watched the videos and watched the reaction with adults in the neighborhood," Smith said, "it appears that it is a tribal series of families in which the adults are involved in training and it is their children."
Abu Anwar al-Obaidi, an al-Qaeda in Iraq member in Garma, east of Fallujah in Anbar province, said the videos were authentic but described the boys as orphans and beggars. Some were the kidnapped children of Iraqi policemen and soldiers, he said.
"They should expect not only kids to be trained," Obaidi said in a telephone interview with a Washington Post special correspondent. "We might even put bombs on animals and send them to checkpoints. The American forces will find it impossible to find a solution for this. They will be forced to kill kids, animals, which will bring shame on the American forces."
Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari, a spokesman for Iraq's Defense Ministry, told reporters that the videos were a sign that al-Qaeda in Iraq was growing desperate. Askari also said that the group was kidnapping children, but provided no further details or figures.
"This is not only to recruit them, but also to demand ransom to fund the operations of al-Qaeda," Askari said. The U.S. and Iraqi officials also showed a video clip depicting Iraqi security forces rescuing an 11-year-old boy who had been kidnapped by the insurgent group. The boy, they said, was being held for a $100,000 ransom.
Also Wednesday, a roadside bomb detonated in central Baghdad, killing a policeman and injuring three civilians, police said. In Khan Bani Saad, gunmen fired on members of a U.S.-backed Sunni paramilitary movement called Sahwa, or "Awakening," killing one fighter and injuring two others, police said. In Mosul, gunmen killed three policemen and a civilian, police said.
Special correspondent Dalya Hassan in Baghdad and a Washington Post special correspondent in Anbar province contributed to this report.