• One Pakistani recruiter of child suicide bombers describes these children as "tools provided by God."

  • Another Muslim cleric in a madrassa [Islamic boys' school] describes child suicide bombers as "a gift from Allah that we have an unlimited number willing to be sacrificed to teach Americans a lesson."

  • Using children as suicide bombers will stop when... they stop "condoning the killing of innocents."

The most unconscionable form of child abuse is perhaps the least addressed by human rights organizations: the recruitment and indoctrination of children by jihadi extremists who transform them into suicide bombers and child soldiers.

Hamas's intentional targeting of Israel by missiles this summer from within densely populated neighborhoods of Gaza filled with Palestinian children is the most callous form of child-abuse yet devised.

During the recent hostilities between Hamas and Israel, media focus remained on the number of civilians -- especially children -- killed in Gaza. There was almost no mention, however of the cynical intent by Hamas to draw Israeli fire on its own people.

This deliberate infliction of harm and death on one's own populace was likely designed to win the propaganda war in an attempt to demonize Israel in the court of world opinion.

The absolute disregard by Hamas of its own citizenry underscores the brutal nature of this terrorist sub-state. It also raises the question of how, given the opportunity, Hamas would treat Israeli non-combatants. Actually, that can already be seen in the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish boys in Israel -- followed a few days later by intense rocket fire -- which precipitated the recent Gaza War. Hamas's apparent tendency to exploit the lives of innocents should not surprise: Islamic radicals seem to have a long history of abusing children to advance their goals.

Just recently, for instance, there was the mass kidnapping by the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram of young girls from their school in the northeastern Nigerian state of Borno -- an event covered, at least for a while, by the media. Before that, there was there was the attempted murder of the 15 year old Malala Yousafzsai, the outspoken Pakistani girl shot and wounded in the head by the Taliban because she wanted an education.

Where is the reporting, however, on the approximately 500 honor-killing murders of young girls and women in Pakistan each year?[1]

Apart from these spectacular events, if the media took a more methodical look at the daily crimes against children in the Islamic world, one might see the kidnapping of young boys and girls who are transformed by their terrorist abductors into warriors, sex slaves and often suicide bombers. While the widespread use of child soldiers, particularly in African countries has received prominent coverage by human rights organizations, the abuse of Muslim children in the same fashion is, inexplicably, under-reported.[2]

It is possible that the young girls kidnapped in Nigeria are also undergoing aspects of the indoctrination program mentioned above, if they are not already being married off to members of Boko Haram or sold as slaves. Similar kidnappings of young people occur on a daily basis in countries such as Pakistan.[3]

Sometimes the media attributes the employment of suicide bombers as a weapon of war to the "desperate" nature of an out-matched resistance force or to merely just another "normal" form of asymmetrical warfare. This reasoning is usually accompanied by commentary that underscores "the need to address the root causes of terrorism," such as poverty, unemployment, hopelessness, and political oppression.[4]

On occasion, some commentators also offer a theological justification for the use of children as suicide bombers. One Pakistani recruiter of child suicide bombers describes these children as "tools provided by God."[5] Another Muslim cleric at a madrassa [Islamic boys school] in Lahore, Pakistan refers to child suicide bombers as "a gift from Allah, that we have an unlimited number of youngsters willing to be sacrificed to teach Americans a lesson."[6]

There seems to be an unsettling ease about children in Islamic societies being duped into becoming suicide bombers -- starting with the environment in which the children are reared. The media seem comfortable not to report on the content of the textbooks in elementary level schools, particularly on the Arabian Peninsula and in Pakistani madrassas. Textbooks there, as in the Palestinian territories, are often are laced with hateful language describing Christians and Jews, as well as non-Muslims in general.[7] These textual references to "infidels" -- or any non-Muslim, or often even any Muslim not of one's proclivity -- are reinforced by vituperative sermons delivered by extremist Imams every Friday in mosques. Muslim children are taught to feel victimized by the West. Children are instructed that Islam is under a state of siege and must be resolutely defended even at great cost. It is a religious worldview that plays into the hands of manipulative recruiters.

The recruitment process of child candidates for suicide bombing missions is sophisticated and nuanced. Initially, a "spotter" will select a youngster out of a group for closer scrutiny. A "watcher" will be assigned to observe the daily routine of the child. The boy's family will be "checked out" to determine its probable reaction to its child's potential recruitment. If nominated, the child will usually be given a number of reliability tests. The nominee, for instance, may be assigned to report on the daily activity of a suspected political or religious adversary. The boy might be ordered to visit a mosque more frequently, especially at prayer times. Finally, the child will be encamped in land controlled by the terrorist group where he is placed under the "protection" of an older recruit.[8] So begins the isolation from parents, siblings, and the friends "on the block." His trainers, spiritual guide, and fellow martyr candidates become his new and constant companions and his surrogate family.

Some camps might require a child to perform a prayerful vigil watch even before the dawn prayer[9] -- a practice comparable to the chapel vigils that squires performed before being granted knighthood in medieval Christian Europe. The young recruit is expected to pray five times a day, the norm in Islamic societies.[10] In the late morning the recruits will be familiarized with various small arms, rudimentary surveillance techniques, and taught to operate different types of motor vehicles. The young recruits' free time will no longer be taken up by so-called decadent Western-produced TV shows and computer games. They will watch DVDs of Jihad operations conducted by their fellow combatants against infidel troops who have invaded Muslim countries such as in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Instructors in suicide-bomber training camps, run by al-Qaeda or Afghan Taliban terrorist networks in North Waziristan, Afghanistan, repeatedly reinforce the propaganda themes of sacrifice, heroism, and spiritual rewards, which they allege will be the blissful fate of those soon to be martyred [11] -- a psychological manipulation designed to exploit the young male egos of the recruits

A child soldier in Afghanistan, 2004. (Image source: Robin Kirk/Flickr)

Eventually, the mental isolation and inculcated sense of purpose succeeds in producing an ideologically committed terrorist acolyte who buys into the fantasy painted for him by the recruiter to desire the alleged rewards associated with martyrdom[12] -- perhaps being immortalized by the posting of his picture in his old neighborhood

The young recruit may have been talked out of his knowledge of the finality of death, or he may just be captivated by the glory, the promise of Paradise and financial security he will gain and, he might imagine, how his family will love him even more for such a gift. He probably does not even realize what harm he is doing to his victims: he has probably been taught that if murder is committed to further the cause of Islam, it is good. Daily lectures from spiritual guides will inform the recruits how much honor their sacrifice will bring their families. They will be told that upon their martyrdom, they will be granted immediate arrival in paradise. The recruits will be instructed that once in heaven they will be able to bargain with Allah for the salvation of their family members and friends.[13]

The harsh reality is that this form of child abuse snuffs out the life of a son as well as the victims who also are mourned by family and friends. Child abuse by suicide bombing will decrease only when humanity condemns this type of infanticide as abuse of the human rights of the child, as well as the perverse religiosity that justifies it. Using children as suicide bombers will end, as Golda Meir said, "when they love their children more than they hate us,"[14] and when they stop "condoning the killing of innocents."


[1] Jihad Watch Robert Spencer 2/15/04. Catholic Culture.org blog quotes Pakistani Bishops' Justice and Peace Commission as claiming that about 700 Christian and 300 Hindu girls are kidnapped each year. See Fides News Service, 4/10/14.

[2] According to West Virginia University Professor of Health Sciences Dr. Muazzam Nasrullah, more than 500 women are killed each year. He suggests that the figure is official but there are many which are not reported.

[3] Pakistani Human Rights Commission Chairwoman Zohra Yusuf stated that in 2012, 913 young women were murdered in Pakistan under the rubric of "kala-kali," Punjabi slang for honor killing. Some of these killings are ordered by independent tribal or Sharia Courts. Often male members of families take the initiative in these murders, with only suspicion or accusation serving as justification.

[4] Abdellah Tourabi editor of the Moroccan weekly TelQuel who is an expert on Islamist Movements praises the film "Horses of God" which traces the path of two suicide bombers by commenting: "The reason I like this film is because it lingered on the process; these people didn't just carry out the attacks because they were poor but because of the whole ideological process behind it." AP: 21 May 2014.

[5] "Taliban Child Recruitment" by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. The Independent. 26 May 2014.

[6] "The Making of Pakistan's Suicide Bombers" by Kalsoom Lakhani. CTC Sentinel: Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. 3 June 2010. pp. 2-3.

[7] Nina Shea of Freedom House observes that hatred towards Christians and Jews remains a staple of Saudi Arabia's public education system. "This indoctrination begins in the first-grade texts and is reinforced and expanded each year, culminating in the 12h grade text that (the student's) religious obligation includes waging jihad against the infidel to spread Islam." Washington Post, 21 May 2006. p.B1.

[8] Combating Terrorism Center (CTC), West Point, New York. "Insight Into a Suicide Bomber Training Camp in Waziristan" by S.H. Tajik. CTC Sentinel: 3 Mar 2010.

[9] Ibid. The night vigil is called the tahajjud.

[10] Prepubescent children are not expected to pray five times a day. However, in suicide bomber training camps the candidates are instructed to pray at the normal times: Fajr: pre-dawn, Zuhr: noon, Asr: mid-after-noon, Maghrib: just after sunset, and Isha: after dark night prayer.

[11] Taliban Child Recruitment by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. The Independent, 26 May 2014.

[12] Abdellah Tourabi, Editor of the Moroccan Weekly TelQuel.

[13] "Failed Suicide Bomber Tells of Love of Martyrdom", New York Times, 6 July 2002. Many notes left behind by suicide bombers address their doubts whether some of their relatives would have been able to reach Paradise on their own unless assisted by their act of martyrdom."

[14] Golda Meir, the fourth Prime Minister of Israel uttered these words at a 1957 National Press Club Meeting in Washington D. C. See also A Land of Our Own: An Oral Autobiography, 1973, p. 242.

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