Taliban suicide bomber dressed as schoolboy kills 31 army cadets

Pakistan's army suffered a damaging blow after a suicide bomber believed to be in his teens and dressed in school uniform slipped into a military base yesterday and set off an explosion, killing at least 31 soldiers and cadets.

In an incident that triggered fears of a renewed wave of attacks and highlighted the nation's continued vulnerability to militants, the device was detonated inside a military recruitment camp as cadets were exercising on the parade ground. More than 40 people were also wounded.

As the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack at the Punjab Regiment Centre in the city of Mardan in north-west Pakistan, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani condemned the killings. "Such cowardly attacks cannot affect the morale of the security agencies and the resolve of the nation to eradicate terrorism," he said in a statement.

Last night there was confusion about the precise age of the bomber. Army officials and intelligence sources said he was a young teenager, with some reports suggesting he was as young as 12. The government issued a statement saying he was 19 or 20, while the Taliban said he was a serving soldier whom they had recruited.

What seems clear is that his outfit – the navy blue uniform of the nearby Aziz Bhatti College for the children of serving army personnel – helped him slip past six separate security check-points. The attack has sparked fresh concerns about a possible new flood of attacks, as vowed by the Taliban. Analysts said that despite a series of military operations against them – the most recent taking place in the nearby Mohmand Agency – the bombing underscores the persistence of militants.

The attack in Mardan was the deadliest strike in the country since 25 December 2010, when a woman with a bomb strapped under her burqa killed 43 people at a UN food distribution point in the tribal district of Bajaur.

The strike in Mardan came on the day Pakistan and India announced they would renew formal talks that were suspended in the aftermath of the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai. One key concern will be the threat of tackling radical Islamic militants, such as those who targeted India's financial capital with the loss of 165 lives.

In a statement released simultaneously in Delhi and Islamabad, the two countries said new talks would focus on counterterrorism, humanitarian issues, peace and security, the disputed Kashmir region and other border issues.

The statement did not say when the talks would begin but noted that the foreign minister of Pakistan will visit India by July to review their progress. The announcement followed a series of meetings between officials, most recently on the sidelines of a regional summit in Bhutan over the weekend.

Despite the announcement, few in India or Pakistan will expect anything concrete to come from the talks immediately. The neighbours have clashed four times since partition, with Kashmir being the trigger in three of the instances. However, analysts say that if the two sides are engaged there is at least the prospect of progress.

Strategic analyst C Uday Bhaskar, of India's National Maritime Foundation, said: "I don't think we can expect anything too quickly – we have seen what happened in Mardan today. But in itself, this is reasonably significant. Since May 1998 (when both India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons) we have had no option but to remain engaged."

Rise of the teenage killers

As a bloody Islamist insurgency grips Pakistan with little end in sight, a particularly horrifying trend has emerged – the use of teenage suicide bombers, kidnapped or brainwashed into making the ultimate sacrifice for the Taliban.

Analysts in Pakistan say the practice of militants recruiting schoolboys increased after the Red Mosque siege of 2007. In October 2009, a 13-year-old suicide bomber flung himself in the middle of a military convoy near the Swat Valley, killing himself and 41 others.

Although his exact age is unclear, human rights activists warn the teenager dressed in school uniform who killed 31 people yesterday at an army recruitment centre is part of a worrying new trend. "The Taliban's recruitment of children has been pretty systematic across the board and we're starting to see more incidents of them being used as suicide bombers," said Sam Zarifi, the Asia Pacific director for Amnesty International.

The Washington Times newspaper has reported a trade in children as young as seven being bought and sold for use as suicide bombers. Quoting US and Pakistani officials, the newspaper said the Taliban were paying up to $14,000 (£8,700) for a child. Some stayed in Pakistan, while others were sold on to the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan.

The boys are taken to training camps in the inhospitable borderlands between Pakistan and Afghanistan, officials say, where they are indoctrinated in Islamic fundamentalism and violence.

Many teens join the militants willingly – there is little opportunity for advancement in the north-west tribal area, with extreme poverty and little education available, except at religious madrassas.

"Children are particularly impressionable – they are ripe for plunder," said Mr Zarifi. In places such as the Swat Valley, a former tourist destination seized by militants before being recaptured in 2009, troops have reportedly captured many teenagers who are being indoctrinated, and some say the government needs to do more to help counter the Taliban ideology. "The Pakistani state has yet to announce an education, reintegration policy and public awareness campaigns for such children in the areas under the influence of militancy," said Raza Rumi, a Lahore-based writer and analyst.

Charlotte McDonald-Gibson

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (C#, ASP.NET Developer, SQL, MVC, WPF, Real-Time F

£40000 - £48000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Devel...

C# Swift Payment Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.N

£45000 - £60000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Swift...

Front-End Developer (JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3, C#, GUI)

£55000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End Deve...

Graduate C# Developer (.NET, WPF, SQL, Agile, C++) - London

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Graduate C# De...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?