KABUL (Reuters) - Islamuddin never imagined joining the Taliban to become a suicide bomber but things changed for the teenage Afghan farmer when he said his best friend was shot dead by U.S. troops in a night raid.
In a rare insight into the mind of an Afghan suicide bomber, Islamuddin told Reuters the shooting 18 months ago was a turning point in his decision to join the Taliban -- and ultimately, to train as a suicide bomber.
“I was really upset and it had a bad impact on me. I became alone. My work was not enjoyable anymore. The whole world became boring for me,” he said.
Four months later, Islamuddin, 17, was arrested for planning to blow himself up in an attack on a U.S. convoy in Kunduz province. He is now serving a four and a half year sentence in a juvenile detention center.
Islamuddin’s mother, who asked Reuters not to release her name, said her son changed after his best friend, who was also his nephew, died -- and that the insurgents took advantage of his grief to recruit him.
“Whenever (Islamuddin) comes into my mind I am upset,” she said. “He was young and was deceived by the Taliban.”
Suicide bombings -- one of the main methods the Taliban use to target coalition and Afghan forces -- are a relatively recent tactic. The first suicide bombing by an Afghan was in 2004.
The majority of victims have been Afghan civilians. Many Afghans are horrified by the bombings and they have been declared un-Islamic in fatwas by senior clerics.
But numbers of the attacks have been steadily rising. In the past six months, Afghan police have arrested at least 20 would-be bombers. Many get training abroad, or are foreigners, according to the Interior Ministry.
Afghan suicide bombers can be motivated by a lack of jobs, education, financial and religious rewards, opposition to foreign troops, as well as revenge for the death of relatives or friends, according to academic and UN reports.
Islamuddin’s nephew’ also 17, was killed in a night raid, long one of the most hated foreign military tactics in Afghanistan, that critics say often claim innocent victims but the military say are an important, and precise, tool.
A spokesman for NATO did not confirm the raid. He identified a possible match that took place in the Dash-i-Archi district in northern Kunduz, a province where violence has increased in the past year, but said the only man killed was an armed insurgent.
Islamuddin said the two teenagers, who worked on farms together earning about 9,000 Afghanis ($190) a month, knew members of the Taliban, but were not active members of the insurgent group.
“Sometimes the Taliban came to have dinner with us, but then they went back,” Islamuddin said.
Then Taliban commanders pinned the raid that killed his friend on the Americans and cajoled Islamuddin into joining a madrassa -- or an Islamic seminary -- where Afghan Taliban provided food, religious instruction and lessons on attacks.
“They visited me every day and encouraged me to take revenge,” he said. His first test was to target a policeman, by planting a mine under a bridge.
“A car came and the Taliban told me it was a district police chief and to press the button. I pressed the button. The car divided in many pieces.”
Later he was told a more junior police commander was in the car. But they pushed him to go one step further in his attacks.
“They trained me how to detonate a suicide vest,” he said. “They said they would support my family and I would go to paradise, but I was concerned about my mother.”
“THIS WORLD IS WORTH NOTHING”
Islamuddin is the eldest child and was the family’s main breadwinner since his father’s death years earlier. But he began lying about his whereabouts, and warned his family: “This world is worth nothing; very soon you will go to another world.”
His mother started worrying about him, and his new friends, but said she never suspected he had joined the Taliban. “If I had known, I would never have let him kill. If he had killed himself, I don’t know how I would have endured it,” she said.
Islamuddin then received his final assignment: blow himself and a U.S. convoy up on the Kunduz-Baghlan highway that connects Kabul to the country’s north. “They told me to go there on a motorbike and commit suicide,” he said.
On his way home for a last farewell, police arrested him.
“He joined the Taliban and they brainwashed him,” said Samehullah Qatra, police chief for Kunduz. “We got the tip he was meeting a family member and waited for his return.”
Islamuddin said he now regrets his actions and his mother has begged the government to free him.
“I know now that suicide is illegal and I shouldn’t have done it, but I was unaware,” he said.
Writing by Mirwais Harooni, Editing by Christine Kearney and Nick Macfie