, PESHAWAR, Jul 28 – Pakistani authorities said Tuesday they had taken into custody a group of juvenile would-be suicide bombers trained and brainwashed by Taliban militants in the country’s northwest.
"A total of nine boys trained as suicide bombers were arrested during raids and two others surrendered themselves to authorities," military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told AFP.
Another military spokesman in the Swat valley, where Pakistan has fought Taliban fighters who launched an uprising two years ago, said nine of the 11 — aged nine to 20 years — were trained as suicide bombers.
Bashir Bilour, a cabinet minister in North West Frontier Province, accused Taliban fighters in Swat of forcibly recruiting about 200 boys, giving them militant training and coaching some to become suicide bombers.
"The parents of many such children have contacted the authorities for their rehabilitation complaining that they had been brainwashed by Taliban," Bilour told AFP.
"The government is making a comprehensive policy to rehabilitate such children," Bilour said.
After Taliban fighters advanced from Swat into the district of Buner, 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Islamabad, Pakistan in April launched a massive offensive under US pressure to crush Islamists considered a major threat.
Most of the fighting has been cut off from independent media coverage, making it impossible to confirm claims made by either the Pakistani armed forces or Taliban militia.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said this month that the military had "eliminated" extremists and the government has sent back around 400,000 of the 1.9 million civilians who were displaced by the fighting.
But deadly skirmishes have continued, raising fears that the Taliban merely escaped into the mountains and regrouped, as they did after two previous offensives in Swat and elsewhere in the militant-infested northwest.