A teenage would-be suicide bomber in Karachi told police interrogators that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has established "schools" in the area to brainwash young men.
Police last month arrested Mohammad Salaam, 16, along with two alleged accomplices, in connection with a planned attack at the Sohrab Goth suburb in Karachi.
"They deliver lectures and sermons in an attempt to allegedly brainwash young men to join their ranks and carry out suicide bombing in the city," Salaam said of what goes on at the schools. "They want to impose their own brand of sharia in a small pocket of the residential neighbourhood."
The Karachi link is nothing new, authorities said. Taliban have been using the city as a logistical, financial and travel hub for years. Last year, police noticed a spike in Taliban-orchestrated bank robberies and kidnappings in the city.
The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in Sindh conducted an operation in Sohrab Goth October 25th and arrested two suspected militants, Sher Rehman and Zainullah (aka Bilal or Zank).
The police seized various weapons from them.
Three others, Omer Farooq, Gul Zareen and Zahir Shah, escaped during a gun battle.
Rehman is a close associate of TTP leaders Hakimullah Mehsud and Qari Hussain, police said. They also hold him responsible for brainwashing innocent children for suicide bombings.
Salaam was studying in Class IX at a school in Sohrab Goth.
"I met Zahir Shah last Ramadan at one of these schools/madrassas. He convinced me that Muslims globally are being subjected to brutality," Salaam told investigators.
The rhetoric includes talk of an afterlife. "As soon as I blow myself up, I will be in heaven and will get eternal peace," he said.
Salaam told media the TTP threatened to slaughter him if he refused to carry out a suicide attack. After a period of brainwashing, Salaam decided that he was ready to stage an attack.
"I discussed my sentiments with Rauf (another TTP leader), who convinced me to become a suicide bomber. I developed a resolve and had desire to head to Afghanistan to blow myself up at coalition soldiers," Salaam said.
"I conveyed my wish to Sher Rehman, too, who said he didn't have any contact person in Afghanistan, so instead of Afghanistan, I should go to South Waziristan, where I would be imparted further training."
Most meetings with TTP members occurred at night and in secluded places, Salaam said.
"Rehman had told me that if I was to disclose my relations with them, they will behead my family and me. After getting caught, however, I have realised that I was engaged in a vice," he said.
Terrorists are buying children and turning them into suicide bombers, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said.
A suicide bomber's parents are paid between $6,000 and $30,000.
Suicide bombings have become a tragically frequent occurrence in Pakistan.
In 2010, 42 suicide attacks killed 1,024 people and injured more than 2,000. In Khyber Pakhtunkwa alone, 23 suicide attacks killed 444 people and injured 710.
At least 5,000 children ages 10 to 17 – with some as young as seven – have been trained as suicide bombers and more are waiting to strike, according to a report by the Pakistan Institute of Policy Studies.
The TTP runs several "suicide nurseries" in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas where trainers brainwash hundreds of children, Pakistani intelligence sources said. In January 2008, the military discovered a suicide nursery in the Spinkai area of South Waziristan.
Police found Salaam being prepared for a suicide attack, Omar Shahid, Senior Superintendent of Police of the CID in Sindh, told Central Asia Online. "He would have carried out an attack within a month or so," Omar said.
Police received information that some terrorists were hiding near Sohrab Goth and chalking "Jeay Taliban" (long live the Taliban) on walls, Omar said.
"The suspects disclosed during interrogation that they brainwashed Salaam into carrying out a suicide attack," Omar said. "They also revealed that they have slaughtered one of their accomplices, named Shahid, alias Raangar (on suspicion of being involved with the agencies)."
Police said that a preliminary investigation revealed that the arrested suspects, born near Manghopir, were involved in various crimes. They studied at a private institution in Nusrat Bhutto Colony until middle school, then joined the Jamia Rasheedia madrassa.
"The suspects worked for their associate organisation, Lashker-i-Jhangvi al-Alami," Omar said. "Rehman was tasked with visiting Waziristan to receive operational plans, and he would often meet with Qari Hussain, Baitullah Mehsud and other commanders of TTP, including Wahab Mehsud in South Waziristan, to share terror-related information."
"TTP Commander Miraaj ordered them to expand their network in Sohrab Goth and to commit a terrorist act in Punjab or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa," he added.
Javed Aziz Khan contributed to this report