Murad Ali, one of five schoolboy homicide bombers rescued from a Taliban training camp, looks haggard beyond his 13 years.
He was thrilled at first when he was given a gun, but Murad told The Times last week of his ordeal at the hands of the Islamists, who have kidnapped 1,500 children like him to prepare for their fatal missions.
Murad was at school in Mingora, the main city in northwest Pakistan’s Swat Valley, when the Islamists abducted him and took him to their remote mountain base in Chuprial.
Looking drained in his smudged clothes and dirty sandals, he gave a glimpse into the short life that awaits boys who are taken by the Taliban.
The next stage of his training included 16 hours a day of physical exercise and psychological indoctrination. "My instructor told me that martyrdom is the biggest reward of Allah," Murad said quietly.
Another boy, Abdul Wahab, 15, said that the Taliban lured him to the camp from his studies at a madrassa — or Islamic school — in Mingora. "I was told that it was a religious duty of every Muslim to get training to fight the enemies of Islam," he said.
He said that he did not appreciate what he would be asked to do. "I panicked when a few days later I was told that I would be getting training for suicide bombing," he said.
The British army believes that between 1,200 to 1,500 boys as young as 11 who were trained in Swat to become homicide bombers were recruited after the Pakistani Government signed a peace deal with the Taliban in February, handing over control of the valley to the militants.
The agreement broke down after the Taliban started advancing on Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, which led to a military offensive that has all but driven the militants from the region.
The boys were rescued after the Taliban were forced to abandon their camps. Many are still missing, however, having been sold to militants in other areas.
"We are trying to track them down," said Brigadier Tahir, the commanding officer in Mingora. "We are not sure how many of them are still alive."