by Fu Yiming and Gao Shan
BAGHDAD, Jan. 14 (Xinhua) -- A boy masquerading as a flower seller blew himself up last September before the house of Sheikh Imad Jassem, the joint-leader of the Sons of Iraq in Tarmiya, 25 km north of Baghdad.
The boy, as young as 10 years old, had been stalking Jassem for three days before tripping on his flip-flops several meters away from his target. The bomb exploded prematurely, seriously wounding the leader.
The innocent and immature young have been recruited and trained to be suicide bombers of the al-Qaida network in Iraq to attack Iraqi high-profile officials as well as civilians.
Since the beginning of U.S.-led war in Iraq in 2003, the war-torn country is plagued by countless explosions and attacks, among which the suicide bombing are the most fatal, killing 600,000 Iraqi civilians and over 4,200 U.S. soldiers.
The notorious terror group started its first recruiting program of women and children as early as 2005, when dozens were brought to a training camp in Doura district in southern Baghdad.
The training camp houses a 90-member cell of suicide bombers which was under full control of al-Qaida.
"They hit both Sunni and Shiite crowded areas, just to incite sectarian hatred among Iraqis," Mulla Nadhim al-Jubouri, now the local leader of Sahwa in Dhuluiyah town, 90 km north of Baghdad, told Xinhua.
The Sahwa, also known as Sons of Iraq movement or the Awakening Councils group, was established in the Anbar province west of Baghdad in 2006, when its leaders became dismayed by al-Qaida's brutality and religious zealotry in Iraq. The group now enjoys strong support from the United States.
Because al-Qaida has lost many fighters due to the crackdown of the Iraqi government and U.S. troops, "they started to recruit children," al-Jubouri said.
Just as female suicide bombers could normally escape security check-up stations, because Muslim women can't be body-searched by male police according to Islamic culture, children suicide bombers can easily pass due to their apparent innocence.
The terrorists look for young people and children who lost their families in strikes suppressed by U.S. soldiers and Iraqi security forces, he added.
They made full use of the outrage of the immature by encouraging them to retaliate U.S. and Iraqi forces.
They told the young that they can "retaliate the death of their loved ones" after being trained, al-Jubouri said.
Al-Qaida recruiters also take advantage of young men and children who are suffering from unemployment and in dire need of money by giving them "large amount of money they had never thought to get."
In December, Major Al Hing from the 2nd Striker Brigade 25th Infantry Division said they discovered last March and April "a conglomeration of cells ... associated with the recruitment and implementation of youth suicide bombers."
"In Tarmiya, we saw the Lions' Club, Fatah al-Islam, Youth of Heaven and Youth of Paradise," and also similar children suicide cells in the Taji area and in Falahat, according to Al Hing.
Mid-November last year witnessed a raid on a major al-Qaida hideout north of Baghdad, where a computer memory disk containing blueprint for the training and recruitment of children was found.
After being recruited, the youngsters, mostly ranging from nine to 15 years old, stay under restrict observation of al-Qaida members. They are accompanied by other members day and night.
Under complete monitoring, those children are "brainwashed" by being repeatedly taught "religious lessons on the Jihad (Holy War)."
Al-Qaida members "chose those item of Islamic religious doctrines encouraging people to die for their rights," al-Jubouri said.
"Through religious lessons, movies about previous suicide attacks and that the suicide bomber is going immediately to the paradise, the children feel it is an honor to sacrifice," he added.
At the night before the "hero" to go for his "great mission," a religious celebration will be held for the upcoming suicide attack. All the people of the cell would stay awake all night, praying and hailing the hero who "would go to the paradise."
Until sunrise, the cell would conduct collectively a dawn prayer together with the child bomber by reading Quran, the holy book of Muslims, till the time of the planned attack.
"At the time, the cell members would send off the bomber in a way similar to sending off a bridegroom for a marriage, then he would go gladly to death," he added.
However, not all the children bombers undertake the task willingly. Once those children were recruited and trained, they have no choice but being forced to do so.
"Children were threatened that if they do not obey the orders, video tapes showing their training in al-Qaida camps would be sent to the local police or the Americans," al-Jubouri said.
Al-Qaida members also threatened to kill the family members of the recruited children if they disobey what they were told to.
There were children who did get killed or captured after failed attempts to protect their vulnerable families, a source familiar with the matter told Xinhua.