The suicide bomber that killed at least 54 people at a Kurdish wedding in the city of Gaziantep in southeastern Turkey Saturday was no older than 14, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Sunday.
Mr. Erdoğan added the child is suspected to have ties to the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) militant group, an announcement that has drawn attention to the group’s use of children for suicide bombings and other violence in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey.
But, IS isn’t the only militant group to exploit children for its own ends. This list includes Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Boko Haram.
Authorities continue to piece together information about Saturday’s attack and the identity of the suicide bomber. Erdoğan said the bomber was 12 to 14-years-old. A security official told Reuters they are investigating the possibility militants could have armed a child with explosives without his or her knowledge, and detonated the device remotely. The official said it’s also possible an intellectually disabled child was duped into carrying the device.
IS has employed similar tactics in Syria and Iraq. In one of the group's deadliest suicide bombings carried out by a child, a teenager is suspected of detonating explosives at a youth soccer game at a stadium south of Baghdad in March, killing 29, and wounding 60. IS claimed responsibility for the attack and released a photo of the attacker, in which he appears to be no more than 16 years old.
IS has built up an army of children it has dubbed its “cubs of caliphate.” According to a UNICEF report released in June, thousands of children have been abducted in Iraq. UNICEF said girls are at risk of being sold into sex slavery, while boys are often forced into becoming combatants or suicide bombers.
To train children for its a child army, IS exposes them to violent acts, which includes showing them videos of beheadings. In a video that went viral this month, a girl in a niqab beheads a toy doll.
Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the predecessor of IS, was known to use teenagers to carry out suicide bombings to fight the American occupation in Iraq.
The Taliban has brainwashed children from religious madrasas to convert them into suicide bombers. One Pakistani teenager, Arshad Khan, told The Christian Science Monitor in June 2011 about how he aspired to become a suicide bomber, a dream that he said was fed by militant commander Abdur Razzaq.
“He would tell me about the jihad, and hand over booklets glorifying mujahideen’s victories against infidels. Slowly and gradually, I got sucked into it and started believing that the biggest aim in life is jihad. Now I realize that it was wrong.”
Arshad gave up that dream after he barely survived a drone attack.
Also in June 2011, a 9-year-old Pakistani girl escaped Taliban militants that kidnapped her to force her to carry out a suicide bombing at a military checkpoint.
Boko Haram, the West African militant group, uses children to carry out one in five of its suicide attacks in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger, according to a report released by UNICEF in April. The number of children used in suicide attacks in 2015 was 11 times more than the previous year. Human Rights Watch said that since Boko Haram began its attacks in Nigeria in 2009, it has recruited up to thousands of children. Most of its suicide attacks are carried out by girls.
Palestinian groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have also sought to indoctrinate children with violent anti-Israel ideologies, but have not used children in any attacks. During the Second Intifada, Palestinian teenagers carried out suicide bombings. In the recent series of stabbings in Israel, children as young as 11 carried out knife attacks, but are suspected of acting independently.
This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.