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Islamists reportedly recruit and pay for child soldiers in Mali

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Sept. 27, 2012: Two young fighters read out Quranic verses for a journalist, at the request of their Islamist commanders, in Douentza, Mali.AP

Islamists in northern Mali have recruited and paid for as many as 1,000 children from rural towns and villages devastated by poverty and hunger.

The Associated Press spoke with four children and conducted several dozen interviews with residents and human rights officials. The AP also saw several other children with machine guns half their size strolling down the streets in Timbuktu, where Westerners can no longer go because of the threat of kidnapping.

The interviews provide evidence that a new generation in what was long a moderate and stable Muslim nation is becoming radicalized, as the Islamists gather forces to fight a potential military intervention backed by the United Nations.

One 16-year-old said the Islamists offered his family up to $400 a month in exchange for his service.