"From Afghanistan to Pakistan, from Iraq to Palestine, [terror] organizations are recruiting boys (some under 15) and training them to carry out suicide bombings - and sometimes these are carried out. For diverse reasons and under diverse circumstances, children are stripped of their innocence and transformed into deadly weapons. Whatever the [reasons and circumstances], the result is the same: lost childhood, a bleak future, and the spread of terrorism...
"The recruitment of children is a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly widespread. UNESCO estimates that a quarter of a million children have been recruited into armed organizations, behind whose banner of religion are political causes."
Thus read the introduction to a series of articles posted on May 26 and 27, 2009,  on the liberal website Elaph, about recruitment of children by terror organizations, particularly for suicide bombings. The articles present examples of children who were recruited by terror organizations, including some who carried out suicide operations, as well as interviews with clerics and social affairs experts on the phenomenon.
The clerics interviewed largely rejected the legitimacy of recruiting children for military activity, although some said it was permissible under extreme circumstances. Representatives of Palestinian organizations, in their interviews, denied that they were using children - even though the article on Palestinian organizations in the Elaph series includes statistics on these children. Most of the articles in the series are descriptive in nature, and present no practical proposals for solving this problem.
The following are summaries of and excerpts from the articles in the series:
Children Recruited By Terror Organizations
As part of the series, Elaph's Saudi Arabia correspondent presented the story of a Saudi boy recruited by a terror organization to carry out an attack in Iraq: "Abd Al-Rahman was 10 when his parents took charge of his religious education, deciding to put him into Koran classes and to send him to one of the informal summer camps run largely by fundamentalist sheikhs... which are one of the generators of extremism in Saudi Arabia. After a year and 10 months, Abd Al-Rahman disappeared... His parents reported [him missing to authorities], but to no avail.
"A month later he phoned from Iraq, prior to setting out for an operation, which [he said had been] explained to him by [his handlers] as a martyrdom operation whose final destination was Paradise. His parents wept bitterly over the state to which their son had come. Another month passed; on his birthday, a video recording of Abd Al-Rahman appeared on an [Islamist] website. In it, he gave an incoherent speech that included unclear threats, and after a few seconds he blew himself up near a U.S. convoy."
The article went on to describe the modus operandi of one terror organization in Iraq - using a mentally handicapped girl for suicide operations: "One morning in Baghdad, several years ago, a 20-year-old woman emerged from a rental car [and strode] towards the Iraqi police checkpoint at the corner of Al-Mesbah and Al-Karada streets in Baghdad. As she passed the checkpoint, she looked confused, raising the suspicions of one of the policemen at the roadblock. He demanded that she halt and raise her hands. She fled from him, although the area was jammed with people and vehicles, and entered a shop - and the place exploded. The girl was dressed in black from head to toe, and one of the policemen noted that she had Down syndrome."
The story of Muhammad, an 11th grader from the Gaza Strip, demonstrates how the Palestinian terrorist organizations recruit children: "In interviews with Elaph, several underage boys training in Palestinian military camps confirmed that they were there of their own free will. Furthermore, [they said that] they loved the resistance, [and saw it] as the only path to liberate their lands from occupation - [indeed,] they were convinced of this.
"Muhammad… is training together with several boys his own age in shooting and weapons in the Futuh district in the southern Gaza Strip, in the framework of an organization that refused to reveal its name.
"Muhammad, who is short of stature, attended Koran recitation classes and classes on praising jihad at one of the mosques, and became active in the branch of this organization in his school. He later joined his counselor at the mosque for a tour of the organization's training sites. A year ago, he underwent training in carrying weapons, and received permission to aid the resistance fighters in night observations on the advance of Israeli military vehicles; he was also trained to [aid the fighters] from a distance in armed clashes. Muhammad hopes to die defending the homeland for the sake of Allah, and to follow his comrades who have already reached Paradise."
What the Clerics Say
Elaph's correspondents asked several clerics on how Islamic law views recruiting children for military operations, particularly for suicide bombings. All the respondents rejected the notion out of hand, even terming those who send children on suicide missions murderers. However, some sanctioned suicide bombings against "foreign forces," while others - the recruitment of children under highly unusual circumstances.
'Abd Al-Bari Al-Zamzami, a member of the Moroccan Parliament and head of the Morocco Islamic Law Research Council, expressed the position that suicide bombings against foreign forces, which he termed martyrdom operations, were permitted. However, he ruled out recruiting children for such operations, and said that those who used them were responsible for their deaths:
"If the training is aimed at preparing a righteous young man to carry out operations in Palestine, Iraq, or Afghanistan against foreign or American forces or their ilk, this is called martyrdom - provided that it is done out of [the young man's free] choice, not as a result of coercion. If this is not the case, it is called suicide."
Regarding minors, Al-Zamzami said that coercing them to carry out suicide bombings is murder "and is forbidden, whether it is a martyrdom operation or suicide." He went on to state: "Children are being forced to carry out these operations, and this is in fact murder. Their recruiters are killing them in the name of religion... Anyone who assigns them to carry out such operations [i.e. suicide operations] bears the responsibility for their killing. A person who pushes the children into these battles is like someone who kills his sons.
"It is regrettable that those who carry out these operations perceive themselves as above religious law and other considerations. No one recognizes their authority to train and guide [jihad fighters]."
Egyptian sheikh Omar Al-Dib, director general of Al-Azhar and head of the Interfaith Dialogue committee, said that Islam does not permit children or the handicapped to carry out jihad operations. He said that such individuals are under no obligation to wage jihad, since this unjustly sentences them to death. He added that the ruler is the only one entitled to declare jihad, and as long as there is no such declaration, there is no religious permission to recruit children."
Egyptian preacher Dr. Safwat Higazi divided the issue of recruiting children into two areas: training and operations. He said that training children from a young age in the fundamentals of warfare and in defending their homeland "is not a problem from the religious standpoint." However, he said, executing military operations is a matter that must be decided on not by an organization but by the legitimate military commander, who is appointed by the ruler. Higazi said that only the military commander has the right to order children to participate in battles - and only under the following conditions: if there are no adults who can do so; if the operations cannot be carried out by anyone but children or women; and if the parents have given their consent.
Dr. Maher Al-Soussi, deputy head of the faculty for fundamentals of religion and religious law at Gaza Islamic University, said that there is no religious permission for children to join the ranks of the resistance, and that children must also not be taken to military sites because of the danger to their lives. To support his statements, he noted that the Prophet Muhammad had refused to accept youths aged 13 to 14 into his army because of their young age.
Defense for Children International: 22 Children Killed in Operations Against Israel; Palestinian Organizations: We Don't Allow Children
In their interviews with Elaph's Gaza correspondent, representatives of the Palestinian terror organizations denied that they recruit children for terror operations, and stated that they are officially against doing so. However, this is not the case.
Abu Thair, a senior official in Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, said that the minimum age for membership in his organization is 18. But he did acknowledge that there have been operations involving minors for which his organization took responsibility. He called these attacks vengeance operations, and said that they had been carried out by children who had been humiliated by the Israeli army.
Abu Muhammad, senior official in Islamic Jihad's Al-Quds Brigades, said that the press reports on children actively participating in his organization's ranks were an attempt to denigrate resistance organizations. He added, however, that "there are institutions belonging to organizations dealing with educating children and deepening their awareness by means of summer camps."
The Elaph correspondent, however, gave statistics from a report by Defense for Children International, which has a branch in Ramallah, showing that the Palestinian organizations do indeed include children in their ranks. According to this report, 22 children were killed while participating in military operations against Israeli targets - among them two girls.
The author of the Defense for Children report, Jihad Shumali, noted that the 2004 Palestinian Child Law, like all international charters and laws, bans the recruitment of children, and sets punishments for anyone who uses them in armed conflicts. Shumali blamed both Israel and the Palestinian organizations for the phenomenon, saying that they are the main parties to the conflict. He also said, "There is no monitoring of these organizations. We have tried to achieve an agreement over a charter of honor banning the use of children in armed operations, but we aren't following up on the matter because this is beyond the capabilities of one single organization."
Proposals for Stopping Recruitment of Children
As mentioned, the Elaph series described the problem, but did offer any proposals for solving it. However, Elaph's correspondent in Saudi Arabia spoke with Saudi social affairs and education expert Elham Al-Zuman, who stressed the importance of education and the media in combating the phenomenon of using children in terrorist operations.
Ms. Al-Zuman said that the way to prevent the recruitment of Saudi children by terror organizations was to establish and develop educational systems encouraging critical thinking, to reinforce the culture of dialogue and acceptance of the other, and to establish media outlets to promote enlightenment. In addition, she said, it is necessary to strengthen the idea of an integrated society, to encourage a future-oriented outlook, and to deepen the spirit of loyalty to the homeland - all of which will prevent the mind-snatchers from reaching the children.
An additional proposal, by Palestinian People's Party political bureau member Walid Al-Awadh, is to have all the Palestinian organizations sign a charter banning the recruitment of children for military operations.