A TEN-year-old Afghan girl implicated in a suicide bomb plot against police has told officers she was forced to wear an explosive vest by her older brother, a Taleban commander.
In one of the most disturbing accounts to emerge from the war-ravaged country in recent years, the youngster said she was ordered to detonate herself at a police checkpoint in southern Helmand province.
Although the account given by the girl, known only as Spozhmai, has yet to be fully verified, it has sparked an investigation by Afghan police to find and apprehend her brother, and has drawn the condemnation of Afghan president Hamid Karzai.
The interior ministry in Kabul said yesterday the girl had been detained before she could set off the bomb vest near a checkpoint in Khanashin district.
Conflicting accounts from local officials on Afghanistan’s Tolo TV channel suggested the girl had tried to detonate the device, but that the button which would have triggered it did not work when pressed.
Speaking at a press conference in provincial capital Lashkar Gah, the girl said she had been ordered by her brother to carry out the suicide mission but had decided at the last minute not to go through with it.
Wearing a blue dress and a red and gray headscarf, Spozhmai told of being forced to ford a river, refusing to carry out the attack and being returned home to a beating from her father.
She said: “My brother Zahir and his friend Jabar forced me to wear the suicide vest. They also gave me extra clothes to wear after crossing the water.
“They brought me near the river to cross at night, but when I saw the water and coldness I shouted and said that it is cold and I can’t cross the water.
“They moved me back home and took the vest from my body. My father beat me, I had to run away in the middle of the night and spent the rest of night in a village nearby to our home in Balochan.”
She said she surrendered to local police next morning.
Omar Zwak, a spokesman for the governor of Helmand, said work was under way to establish what happened during the incident on Sunday night. “We have appointed a team to investigate this,” Mr Zwak said. “They will try to find the brother and father and they will visit the police post and talk to the officers who found and detained her. We are trying to find out what exactly happened.”
Mr Zwak said the girl gave varying versions of events, at one stage saying she had crossed the river alone and got cold and wet before being arrested and then secretly returning home to put on dry clothes.
The girl, who is now in custody, did not explain why local police would have allowed her to return home. She told authorities she did not want to live there any longer because her brother and father were Taleban fighters and would kill her, adding that she also did not get on with her stepmother.
She told the press: “My brother killed an army soldier in Marja district. They captured the army soldier in Lashkar Gah and killed him. I saw the killing and I was crying. I asked my brother not to do this but they didn’t listen to me. My brother kept me at home for most of the time and did not allow me out.”
Some local media quoted officials as saying the girl was wearing the explosive vest when arrested, but it was not produced at the conference. The interior ministry’s account said her brother was a Taleban commander who coerced her into putting on the vest and walk towards the police checkpoint.
According to the United Nations, at least 66 children – primarily boys, some as young as eight – were recruited by insurgents in 2012.
Many were recruited by the Taleban, with children helping to manufacture and plant explosive devices. At least ten children were recruited to conduct solo suicide attacks.
Although young boys have been used to detonate explosive devices in Afghanistan, the use of girls as suicide bombers is considered extremely rare.
President Karzai condemned those who used children in suicide attacks and called on Taleban leaders to join him in condemning such abuse.
In a statement, he said: “Coercing children into suicide attacks is against Holy Islam and the values of Afghan culture.”
He added that provincial elders should help the girl return to live with her family.
In 2011, Mr Karzai met about 20 boys aged as young as seven who had been trained as suicide bombers. He ordered their release on compassionate grounds.
Afghan officials say the Taleban drug child bombers, promising them they will go to paradise if martyred in suicide attacks. The Taleban, however, have always denied using children to launch attacks.