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Are Pakistan's Taliban using children as weapons?

A 9-year-old girl says she was kidnapped in Pakistan by Taliban with the intent of forcing her to be a suicide bomber. She escaped, but her experience raises concerns about the use of children by militants.

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A 9-year-old schoolgirl narrowly escaped a plot laid by her Taliban kidnappers this week in Pakistan’s northwest to use her as a suicide bomber at a military checkpoint, raising concerns about militants' intent to use children in their battles.

The girl, Sohana, was kidnapped over the weekend by two men and two burqa-clad women in Peshawar, who huddled her into the car and drove to Timargarah. That’s the largest town in Lower Dir, bordering Afghanistan, where Pakistan’s security forces launched a successful crackdown against the Taliban insurgency in 2009.

“I was buying toffees from a roadside vendor on my way to school,” the third-grader, wearing a white-head scarf and blue school uniform, told police officials and reporters after her narrow escape on Monday.

“When I opened my eyes, I found myself in a room. They fed me biscuits and I fell unconscious,” she said. The next morning, Taliban militants took her close to the Darra Islam checkpoint and forced her to wear a suicide vest. “They put on one suicide jacket on me, but it did not fit,” she said. “Then they put on another one.”

“You keep on reciting Koranic verses till you push the button,” the girl says the Taliban militant told her. But police say Sohana escaped from the car while they were trying the second vest on her, not, tossing it aside as she ran away. “I released my hand from the woman and ran by shouting and screaming; as I came close to the checkpoint, they [police] took me into custody.”

On Tuesday, police officials say, the girl was reunited with her family.

Sohana's experience triggered concerns among human rights organizations that the Taliban are now increasingly using children as their main weapon. “I believe that the Taliban are becoming desperate,” says a leading activist, Farzana Bari. “It is worrisome that now they [ the Taliban] want to destroy the young generation and use these innocent kids as their soldiers in the name of holy war."

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