Videotapes seized during U.S. raids on suspected al Qaeda in Iraq hide-outs show the terror group training young boys to kidnap and assassinate civilians, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Wednesday.
Footage aired for reporters showed an apparent training operation with black-masked boys - some of whom appeared to be about 10 years old - storming a house and holding guns to the heads of mock residents. Another tape showed a young boy wearing a suicide vest and posing with automatic weapons.
But U.S. and Iraqi officials said they could offer no estimate on how many children have fallen under the terror group's control. They named just a handful of attacks blamed on women or children.
The American military said some of the tapes were found in December during a U.S. raid in Khan Bani Saad, northeast of Baghdad, and said it indicated a pattern that al Qaeda in Iraq was increasingly using children for sinister means.
"Al Qaeda in Iraq wants to poison the next generation of Iraqis," Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a U.S. military spokesman, told reporters Wednesday inside the heavily guarded Green Zone. "It is offering children as the new generation of mujahedeen," he said, using the Arabic term for holy warriors.
"We believe this video is used as propaganda to send out to recruit other boys ... and to send a broader message across Iraq to indoctrinate youth into al Qaeda," he said.