How two teens were recruited for jihad

Source NCB 

"We were told to fight against Israel, America and non-Muslims," said Muhammed Bakhtiar, 17, explaining why he wanted to become a suicide bomber. "We are so unhappy with our lives here. We have nothing," he said.

Last month, Bakhtiar and his school friend, Miraj Ahmad, also 17, left their home, families, and boarding school in Buner, a district of the Malakand Division of the Northwest Frontier Province. Their destination was the Muridke madrassa right outside of Lahore, Pakistan’s second-largest city. The madrassa or religious school is run by the Jama’at-ud-Da’awah, the charity linked to the outlawed terrorist organization, Lashkar e Taiba. And Lashkar e Taiba has links to al-Qaida.

NBC News
Miraj Ahmad, left, and Muhammed Bakhtiar were recruited for jihad.

The grounds of this madrassa looks much like the campus of any exclusive boys boarding school – except for the bearded armed guards sporting Kalashnikovs checking all those who come and go. There is a cricket field, swimming pool, all sorts of sport activities, and horses too. In addition to religious instruction, the school offers computer sciences, engineering and pre-med classes for students ranging in age from six to 17.

It also offers jihad.

"We read about jihad in books and wanted to join," said Ahmad. "We wanted to go to the Muridke madrassa so we would have a better life in the hereafter."

Recruited at local high school
Ahmad said that he and his friend Bakhtiar were recruited at their high school in Buner. The recruiter offered to take the boys to Muridke for two weeks of training and then to Peshawar where they would be introduced to people and make contacts.

"We were told it is our choice to become a freedom fighter or a suicide bomber," explained Ahmad, who had a neat beard and wore a white Muslim prayer cap. "But we should never fight against Pakistan."

Every morning the students were taught Islamic studies; afternoons were reserved for sports. Jihadi training was given in the evenings; two classes a night.

"The jihadi man who brought us to Muridke told us we would become great by fighting jihad," said the clean-shaven Bakhtiar. "We knew we could never become great if we stayed in Buner. I wanted to become great."

About 600,000 people live in Buner, a green valley surrounded by high mountains. The area is underdeveloped and the climate is harsh.

The Yusufzai tribe, the largest of all the Pashtun tribes, makes up most of the population.  Pashtuns are the ethnic group comprising 15 percent of Pakistan’s population – mostly in the Northwest Frontier Province, along the Pakistan-Afghan border – and in Pakistan’s southwest Balouchistan Province. 

They have an ancient culture, speak their own language and abide by their own tribal codes of honor and hospitality called Pashtunwali. They have gotten a bad name of late since the Taliban are also Pashtuns.

Scenes from the city of Buner, a city along the Pakistan-Afghan border, where two local boys were recruited for jihad.

The Buner tribesmen who cannot eke out a living from farming often try to leave and work in Malaysia or the Gulf States.

Some, like Bakhtiar and Ahmad, just try and leave. Buner seemed like a perfect place to sign up kids for jihad.

Parents outraged
When the parents of Bakhtiar and Ahmad learned the boys had missed a week at their Buner boarding school, they panicked. They contacted relatives and friends. There were no clues. Finally a nephew remembered the boys talking one night about the Muridke madrassa. He went there and somehow managed to get past the armed guards and identified his cousin, Bakhtiar. He called home to Buner and told the family to come.

The parents of both boys said that they believed the Hera boarding school in Buner had brainwashed their sons.

The principal, Abdur Rahman, denied this, saying he went to the local police and demanded they go after the man who recruited the boys at his school.

"We don’t support this; suicide attacks are murder; this is against Islam," said Rahman. "Those boys went to Muridke by themselves, they should have been here taking their exams, and I no longer want them back in my school," he said.

The tribal elders intervened and now Bakhtiar and Ahmad are back in school in Buner.

"My brother and my uncle found me in Lahore," said Bakhtiar. "The people at Muridke let us leave and said we could come back after we finished our exams at home," he said.

But we asked them, "Do you want to go back and learn jihad?"

"I don’t know" said Bakhtiar."Maybe, maybe."

Ahmad agreed. "There is nothing for us here. Nothing."

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