Then on top of exploiting these children and trying to turn them into terrorists, Al Qaeda has the nerve to use them for ransom to fund their own terror initiatives…
WASHINGTON — Al Qaeda propaganda tapes released by Multinational Forces-Iraq reveal a possible new trend in the group’s terror strategy in Iraq.
The tapes, obtained by FOX News and later released to the media, are training videos showing black-masked Iraqi children between 6 and 14 being taught how to hold AK-47s, stop a car and carry out a kidnapping, break into a house and break into a courtyard and terrorize the individuals living there.
Footage aired for reporters showed an apparent training operation in which the boys are seen storming a house and holding guns to the heads of mock residents. Another tape showed a young boy wearing a suicide vest and posing with automatic weapons.
They also are shown being taught to use rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
“These were young boys all masked and hooded, all outfitted with weapons; adults were doing the training,” said Rear Adm. Greg Smith, a spokesman for Multinational Forces-Iraq.
“Al Qaeda is clearly using children to exploit other children to get the interest of Jihad spread among teenagers far and wide. They use this footage on the Internet to encourage other young boys to join the jihad movement.”
And at a U.S. military briefing on Wednesday in Baghdad’s heavily guarded Green Zone, he added: “Al Qaeda in Iraq wants to poison the next generation of Iraqis. It is offering children as the new generation of mujahedeen,” he said, using the Arabic term for holy warriors.
The five videotapes found included raw footage that the U.S. military believes was to be used in future propaganda tapes. They obtained the material in a Dec. 4 raid in Khan Bani Sad — about halfway between Baghdad and Baquba.
Other scenes from the Khan Bani Saad video showed masked boys forcing a man off his bicycle at gunpoint and stopping a car and kidnapping its driver along a dusty country road. At one point the boys — wearing soccer jerseys with ammunition slung across their chests — sit in a circle on the floor, chanting slogans in support of Al Qaeda.
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Coalition forces also obtained another tape, shot by Iraqi-led forces, that shows a mission in which a kidnapped 11-year-old Iraqi boy is rescued after being held for ransom.
Acting on a tip from a local Iraqi, the forces planned a surprise raid last week on a home in Kirkuk where an 11-year-old boy, the son of a Kurdish mechanic, was being held for a $100,000 ransom by Al Qaeda.
The kidnappers had held the boy, Ammar, for four days.
Kidnapping and extortion are how Al Qaeda in Iraq finances its attacks. It is big business. But this time there was a happy ending.
“As he came out from under that curtain you could tell he looked terrified,” Smith told FOX News in an interview, speaking about the boy. “He gave his name and they said, ‘You’re the one we are looking for,’ and you could tell he was much relieved at that point.”
The raid began before dawn.
“They approached on foot,” Smith said from Baghdad. “They knew precisely what door they needed to go to. They came down a small alleyway. The door was locked, they yelled inside for it to be unlocked, it was not unlocked so they broke the door down.”
The security forces entered a small room.
“The Al Qaeda member who had custody of this young boy was also in shock by the entrance and the quick operations by the Iraq security forces,” Smith said.
One of the kidnappers was caught inside the room where the boy was hiding. All of the shooting and shouting left the boy terrified, according to those who participated in the raid.
“They got him into the car,” Smith recalled. “They handed him a cell phone so he could call his mother, and he was very composed. He just said, ‘Hello. This is Ammar.’
“He said, ‘I am here. I am safe.'”
An officer on the other end of the line could hear the family screaming and shouting. Soon after, the boy was delivered back to cheering neighbors and family members.
This story had a happy ending, but most kidnappings in Iraq do not. Ammar was from a simple family, and his father never could have paid the $100,000 ransom.
In an interview after his son was returned to the family, Ammar’s father said, “The kidnappers told us that if we fail to pay the ransom, they will behead my son and put his head in the garbage can in front of my house. We told them that we don’t have money.”
The raid netted five kidnappers and led the coalition forces to another boy being held in a hideout nearby. He was freed on Sunday.
Al Qaeda’s networks are not difficult to unravel once a successful raid has been completed. Its operatives’ obsessive need to keep accurate books, such as an accountant might, has provided coalition troops with a treasure trove of intelligence.
Much like the Nazis in World War II, Al Qaeda operatives document their every action, be it a bombing or kidnapping. It is the way they get paid by the organization.
The kidnapping ring that was broken last week had recorded 26 other kidnappings. Coalition forces did not know how many had ended in release, and how many in death.
Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari told reporters that militants are kidnapping more and more Iraqi children, though he could not offer details or numbers.
“This is not only to recruit them, but also to demand ransom to fund the operations of Al Qaeda,” al-Askari said.
The group included about 20 children being “trained.” At the end of the hourlong video they are sent into their parents’ arms, suggesting the training has parental approval and that the children likely come from Al Qaeda-affiliated households.
The tapes’ discovery adds to Al Qaeda’s exploitation of children as well as women; just last weekend two female homicide bombers wrapped in explosives targeted a Baghdad market, killing nearly 100 people.
Smith said pictures of the bombers’ remains show their faces to have distinctive Down Syndrome features, making them unlikely suspects.
After the attack, Iraqis in Baghdad demanded more protection for markets, saying one of the bombers was not searched because she was known as a local beggar and the male guards were reluctant to search women because of Islamic sensitivities, as women are not searched in public places.
The police are recruiting female officers, yet there does not appear to be a plan to train them to search members of their own sex.
As for the children in the tapes, “We don’t think they were being trained precisely to go out and conduct operations any time soon,” Smith said. “But clearly there is a pattern of training and a pattern of indoctrination that is being used by Al Qaeda.
“Very young individuals who are very obviously innocent and impressionable, these videos convince them early on that the jihadist movement, the Al Qaeda movement, is something they should belong to and look up to.”
All of this suggests that Al Qaeda in Iraq is planning to continue its recruiting operations for years to come, Smith said.
“In this instance we believe it was for a greater purpose than trying to produce footage for film,” Smith said.
“That footage can be used again on the Internet to convince other young boys around the world to join the movement.”
The U.S. military on Wednesday said coalition forces had killed seven suspected insurgents and detained 45 others during five days of raids across Iraq.
Also Wednesday, a roadside bomb exploded near a police convoy transporting suspected Shiite militia fighters south of Baghdad, killing four passers-by and wounding nine other people, police said. At least 19 people were killed or found dead Wednesday across the country.
The roadside bombing was an apparent attempt to free the 10 detainees who were linked to the Mahdi Army militia that is nominally loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, according to police Brig. Gen. Ghassan Mohammed Ali.
He said the detainees had been captured over the past month and had been accused of attacking civilians and U.S. and Iraqi security forces in the city.
The bomb went off in Diwaniyah, 80 miles south of Baghdad, where there have been fierce clashes between rival Shiite militia factions engaged in a violent power struggle in the oil-rich area.
Two women and two men in a car near the explosion were killed, and nine other people — two policemen, three prisoners and four civilians — were wounded, Ali said.
Al-Sadr has ordered his militia to stand in a six-month cease-fire that expires at the end of February, but the U.S. military says disaffected fighters have broken with the movement and persisted with attacks.
Iraqi security forces in the area also often are accused of being infiltrated by militia fighters, particularly from the Badr Brigade, the militant arm of the largest Shiite party, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, or SIIC.
Jennifer Griffin is FOX News’ National Security Correspondent.
FOX News’ Courtney Kealy and The Associated Press contributed to this report.