By Carol Grisanti, NBC News
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- It’s the game-playing that draws the attention: A group of young boys are acting out the last moments of a suicide bomber, for fun.
In a disturbing 84-second video, posted on YouTube, one boy, perhaps 12 years old, is dressed in black, his face covered by a black scarf. He is the one who gets to blow himself up. Beforehand, he hugs the other kids in what appears to be his final farewell. Some of the younger children find the whole charade rather funny and giggle in the film.
All the children, some looking as young as 5 or 6, are dressed in baggy pants and long tunics, the traditional dress of Pakistanis and Afghans. Some are wearing brown, others white, possibly to represent the different roles they have to play.
The bomber walks over to the boy in white who could be acting in the role of a government official. That boy holds his hand in the air in a gesture that is meant to try and foil the alleged bomber’s movements. The bomber then lifts his shirt as if to show a vest laden with explosives. He kicks up a cloud of dust to depict the bomb that he has set off. The three boys dressed in brown and the one wearing white -- all appearing to be security or government officials -- fall dead.
The portrayal of a suicide bombing has sparked concern and outrage. While the video has been posted on YouTube since early January, there’s no information on who posted it, where the event took place, and what was the motivation behind the piece. It’s been viewed more than 500,000 times.
Children play suicide bombing 'game'
Abdullah Khoso from the Pakistani “Society for the Protection of Children” (SPARC) said the video should be pulled from the Internet. “Why is this on YouTube,” he asked during an interview with NBC News. “Why does YouTube allow something like this that obviously exploits children and distorts the image of these children? Who benefits from watching this? The recruiting targets would be the kids and families from the border areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan but they would not see this video because they don’t have access to internet,” he said.
The Taliban militants have often recruited teenagers and trained them to be suicide bombers. When the Taliban first occupied the Swat Valley two years ago, many teenagers were inspired by their ruthlessness in rooting out the local criminals and the armed gangs, who were terrorizing the local population. They started to play street games emulating them, not that far-fetched in a tribal society and not that far removed from kids elsewhere who play games of cops and robbers and cowboys and Indians. Later, many of those same kids joined the Taliban.
“Why aren’t there videos on YouTube of kids playing soldier games or paying violent internet games?” Khoso asked. “Whose purpose is this video serving?” Khoso thinks the video was put out for one of two purposes: either to show the West how evil kids from the border areas are, or to reinforce a picture of the Taliban as evil in recruiting children as future suicide bombers.
The music in the background is a Taliban jihadi song. The lyrics are in Pashto. “Throats are cut, bombs go off and then you can go to a nice place," meaning heaven, although the word is not used.
The Pakistani Taliban denied making the video, saying it was Western propaganda aimed at defaming their image in the eyes of their countrymen.
“This video has nothing to do with us,” said Ihsanullah Ihsan, one of the group’s spokesmen. “We did not ask these children to copy us in their games but it is clear that they are impressed with our cause and now want to imitate our brave fighters.”
Khoso feels the wide circulation of the video is dangerous. “If it is to recruit children, if it is to use children as a tool to motivate and inspire evil, then why does YouTube help facilitate this.”
Mushtaq Yusufzai in Peshawar contributed to this report.