Afghan children fall prey to killers who trade human organs

Ismail is only 10 years old, but the horrors of the past three months will be with him to his grave. He was rescued by the Afghan authorities on Friday, after being kidnapped in March with his brother Ibrahim, 6.

Quietly, he told seeing the bodies of four boys of about his age that had been cut open. "They took us to a mountain where I saw the bodies," he said. "They had taken out the organs. They were on the ground at the bottom of this mountain, then the men took them away. They were boys of about our age. I thought I would not live long when I saw them. I was scared."

The intelligence chief for the south, Dr Abdullah Laghmani, said local forces were searching for the four bodies, having found one already in Panjwai district to the southwest of Kandahar, where he is based. "We have information they [the kidnappers] killed five children, cutting their heads off and opening their stomachs to extract their kidneys," Dr Laghmani said.

He believes the kidnappers, involved in a worrying rise in the number of disappearing children across the country, planned to sell the kidneys in Pakistan, where patients are prepared to pay large amounts of money for healthy organs. There also appear to be other motives, including extortion.

The kidnappers who seized Ismail and Ibrahim from their home in a village in the remote southwestern province of Nimruz demanded money from their grandfather, which he could not hope to pay. "During these three months I was desperate and feared that I would never see my grandsons again," said a tearful Haji Anwar, an elderly man with a white turban and matching beard. "We were planning to hold prayers for them, assuming they had died."

Ali Ahmad Jalali, the Interior Minister, said recently that hundreds of children had been taken out of the country illegally in recent years, and some had been kidnapped for their body parts.

Dr Laghmani said: "These three men who were arrested did what they did for money, but the money will end up in the hands of al-Qa'ida and Taliban."

The three kidnappers detained in the latest case had been sent to Kabul for questioning, he said. Four AK-47s and a machine-gun were found in their compound.

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