In a shocking affront to child dignity across the country, a nine-year-old girl was kidnapped on her way to school some days ago and forced to wear a suicide vest by her captors on Monday.
The girl, Sohana Javed, was then instructed to attack a police checkpoint in Lower Dir, police officials said. But providence seemed to intervene, helping the girl to give her captors the slip on Monday. This is the first time that militants have used a young girl to carry an explosives belt in any attempted act of terror, sparking fears that terror groups may have switched tactics.
Police said the girl was arrested about 50 metres from the check post in Islam Darra on the outskirts of Timergara, the main town in the district of Lower Dir. Sohana, dressed in a blue and white school uniform, recounted her ordeal during a news conference with police. She told reporters that she had been grabbed by two women and forced into a car carrying two men. Police in Peshawar said they are still trying to confirm her story.
One of the kidnappers put a handkerchief on her mouth that knocked her unconscious, she said in an interview with a local TV station. When she woke up and started crying, one of the women fed her biscuits laced with an intoxicant which again knocked her out. The next time she woke up she found herself in a strange home, she said.
“This morning, the women and men forced me to put on the heavy jacket and put me in the car again,” the girl said.
“They put one suicide vest on me, but it did not fit. Then they put on annother one,” Sohana said. “I threw away the vest and started shouting (for help) as I came close to the check post and they (security forces) took me into custody.”
“They kept me in a house and they told me to push the button (to detonate the suicide vest) when I reach near policemen,” she told reporters.
District Police Officer Saleem Marwat told reporters that Sohana was a resident of Hashtnagri area in Peshawar and that she had told the police that she attended school on Sunday.
A local source, however, told The Express Tribune that Sohana “seemed to be from the Malakand division, not Peshawar, and was a rural type of child, not an urban one.”
Her accent shows that she is from Malakand, not Peshawar, the source said. Another source of confusion was pointed out. Even though the girl mentioned two suicide vests, only one was actually recovered from the site.
“She was wearing eight kilograms of explosives which was quite heavy for her age. Her (actions) were suspicious,” Qazi Jamilur Rehman, the regional police chief, told AFP by telephone.
“She is an innocent (little) schoolgirl who was scared. She is with us (now) and we are trying to contact her family,” Rehman added.
The police said they were trying to locate the militants who had abducted her and put her to this task. The official said that the kidnappers also changed her private school uniform with a government school one. Sohana told reporters that she was a student of a private school for which her parents paid a monthly fee of Rs500. She identified her father as Javed and said that she had an elder brother, Imran, who is a 9th grade student.
Suicide attacks by women and children are rare, but militant groups have frequently used teenage boys.
On December 26, 2010, a burqa-clad female suicide bomber struck a UN food distribution point and killed 43 people in Khar, the main town in the restive Bajaur tribal region bordering Afghanistan.
Nearly 4,500 people have been killed across Pakistan in attacks blamed on Taliban and other extremist outfits. With additional input from news wires
Published in The Express Tribune, June 21st, 2011.