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Islamists in Mali paying for child soldiers
The role of the instructors was clear when a Toyota pickup truck stopped on the side of a dusty road in the town of Douentza. The truck carried Abou Dardar, the head of the Islamists in Douentza, and three child soldiers piled into the back. The children did not make eye contact with Dardar and did exactly what he said.
One of them, 13-year-old Abdullahi, was looking after his family’s animals in the desert only a few months ago. Now he goes by the name of “Abou Konana,” in keeping with the tradition of bestowing new “fighter” names upon those who join the Islamists.
His head and face were wrapped in a black turban, and his AK-47 dangled from his nose to his knees. When he is not undergoing military training exercises, he carries a notebook for Koranic studies inside a khaki-colored shirt several sizes too big.
“I have only my life to give to God,” he told an AP reporter.
Dardar, a bearded man wearing a camouflage jacket, acknowledged that there are youngsters in the ranks of the militants, but he insisted that his followers were motivated by God, not by signing bonuses.
“If they are not, we can’t work with them,” he said.
He turned to Hamadi, a 14-year-old who also worked as a shepherd before coming with his uncle to join the Islamists. The boy now goes by “Bilal,” and told the AP that he prefers his new life of jihad to his old one.
“I know that there is death, but it’s a death because of God,” he said.
The local head of the Islamists interrupted to remind the boy that the militants believe death will put them next to God.
“When we fire our Kalashnikovs, it is not us firing the weapon,” he said. “It is God.”
Back at the bus stop, Salif, the 16-year-old offered money, said several of his friends have joined the Islamists, and some are working as security guards for them.
“One friend told me, ‘It’s a good education. You don’t have to work for money. You are working for Islam and for God,’” he said.
Salif turned down the offer.
“My parents would not want me taking part in something like that,” he said.
By Tom Fitton
New photos confirm the attack's coordination and its cover-up
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