US: Al-Qaeda training children

2008-02-06 21:16
Baghdad - Al-Qaeda fighters in Iraq are training young children as gunmen and kidnappers, the US and Iraqi militaries alleged on Wednesday, releasing a video of masked and armed youngsters.

Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, a US military spokesperson, said five videos showing children being trained by adult militants were seized in a December 4 raid on a suspected al-Qaeda base in Khan Bani Saad, north of Baghdad.

"The operation was targeting two senior al-Qaeda individuals. During the operation two were detained and three were killed," he said. AFP has no independent means of confirming the footage?s authenticity.

The videos released to reporters showed boys apparently as young as nine wearing balaclava masks and European football jerseys and brandishing pistols, machineguns and rocket launchers during a series of training exercises.

One scene shows the gang halting a civilian volunteer on a bicycle and submitting him to a mock kidnapping, holding a pistol to the base of his skull and pinning his hands behind his head.

Smith said it did not appear that the apparent child militants had been kidnapped or press-ganged but were being used by their families, although investigations were continuing and none of the boys had been detained.

"As we watched the videos and watched the reaction with adults in the neighbourhood it appears that it is a tribal series of families in which the adults are involved in training and it is their children," he said.

"It's just an assessment - we don't have custody of those children."

In recent weeks, US and Iraqi spokesperson have raised new concerns over al-Qaeda's alleged use of children and the mentally handicapped in suicide bombing missions, which Smith called a "disturbing trend".

Mohammed Al-Askari, spokesperson for the Iraqi defence ministry, told the news conference that the videos were a "sign of desperation by al-Qaeda".

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