BAGHDAD – A teenage Iraqi girl who claimed her husband's female relatives strapped explosives on her has been sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for attempting to blow herself up at a checkpoint in northeastern Iraq, a provincial judge said Thursday.
The sentence comes amid a rising number of female suicide bombers in Iraq, which has prompted U.S. and Iraqi forces to step up efforts to train more female police to search women for explosives.
Rania Ibrahim was sentenced Sunday in a juvenile court for the attempted attack on Iraqi security forces near Baqouba in August 2008, said Diyala provincial Judge Zaid Khalaf.
At the time, there were conflicting accounts surrounding her arrest.
U.S. officials said the 15-year-old turned herself in after being hooked up to the explosives against her will. Iraqi police said she was caught by a patrol after arousing suspicion while walking in downtown Baqouba.
After her arrest, a videotape of Ibrahim's confession, made in the presence of reporters, was released to media.
In the first part of the video, Ibrahim is seen standing in a street, both hands cuffed to a metal grid attached to a wall behind her. A police officer is later heard saying she apparently had been drugged. Another officer opens her robe, and shouts out to his colleagues, apparently to confirm he spotted a vest.
Police later said the vest was packed with 33 pounds of explosives. A police photo showed it had six compartments, including two stuffed with what looked like tubes and four holding packages covered in cling-wrap.
In the second part of the videotape, where reporters were present, Ibrahim first said she did not know the women who gave her the vest, saying they were strangers. But a few moments later, she said the explosives were strapped to her by female relatives of her husband. She said she was shown the vest's two detonators and told how to use them.
Throughout her trial, Ibrahim stuck by the story that the two women put the vest on her, said provincial police spokesman Maj. Ghalib al-Karkhi. But the court focused on the fact that Ibrahim was in possession of an explosives vest and was caught wearing it, rather than her conflicting confession, he said.
Many Iraqi women wear long robes, ideal for covering bulky suicide vests, and Iraqi policemen hesitate to pat them down at checkpoints because of cultural taboos.
Iraqi authorities lack enough female police to search women, and the U.S. military has been working with Iraqi security forces to recruit and train female police officers to search women at checkpoints and entrances to public buildings.
Last year, female suicide bombers attempted or successfully carried out 32 attacks, compared with eight in 2007, according to U.S. military figures.
This year, there have been a number of female suicide bomb attacks. In March, a female suicide bomber attacked Shiite worshippers in Karbala, killing at least 49.
In January, police arrested a middle-aged woman, Samira Ahmed Jassim, for allegedly recruiting female suicide bombers. In a prison interview, Jassim told The Associated Press about a plot in which young women were raped and then persuaded to carry out suicide attacks to reclaim their honor.