Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday denounced the use of child suicide bombers, saying that militants who recruit them to wage terror are "oppressors of Islam" and "oppressors of children."
The Taliban and other militants are accused of soliciting children to carry out suicide bombings, which often kill other innocent Afghans and Muslims.
Karzai sat in a sunny courtyard at the presidential palace with about 20 young Afghans who had either surrendered to Afghan authorities or had been arrested across the nation in connection with planned suicide bombings. After a brief chat, he ordered aides to help the young men, ages 10 through 16, find homes, education or be released to their parents.
"This is cruelty to this country. This is cruelty to Islam," Karzai said.
"It is cruelty to Islam that they put explosives around a child's body and tell him that when he carries out the attack he will not get killed, only others will get killed."
Earlier this year, the Afghan intelligence service paraded five alleged suicide bombers _ all boys in adolescence or even younger _ before reporters, photographers and cameramen in an effort to turn public opinion against the Taliban.
Afghan intelligence officials say the Taliban turns to young boys because they are easier to recruit than adults and tend to believe what recruiters tell them. Confirmed cases are rare, and it's difficult to identify the bodies of bombers who blow themselves up, but intelligence officials say there has been a recent increase in the use of children.
On May 1, police said a 12-year-old blew himself up in a bazaar in the Barmal district of Paktika province in the east, killing four civilians and wounding 12 others. On April 13, a 13-year-old suicide bomber detonated his explosives vest in Asmar district of Kunar province. The blast, also in the east, killed 10 people, including five schoolboys and an influential tribal elder, Malik Zareen, who was a former military commander who supported the Afghan government.
Elsewhere in Afghanistan, a local government official was assassinated on Tuesday evening in the south _ the third official killed in Helmand province in a week, officials said.
The governor's office in Helmand said two gunmen on a motorcycle fired at a member of the Nawa district council in Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital. The councilman was rushed to a hospital but died of his wounds.
Insurgents have responded to heavy pressure from U.S. and NATO coalition forces by targeting officials and others aligned with the Afghan government.
In two attacks Sunday, militants killed a councilman and chief prosecutor from Gereskh district.
Also in the south, a NATO service member was killed in an insurgent attack on Wednesday, the coalition said. So far this month, 70 NATO service members have died in the war, including at least 60 Americans.
In eastern Afghanistan, four rockets fell Wednesday afternoon in Zurmat district of Paktia province, said Gulab Shah, the top government official in the district. He said one rocket hit a vegetable market and killed three civilians and wounded eight others.
On Tuesday, two Afghan policemen died when their vehicle hit a roadside mine in Chimtal district of Balkh province, said Lal Mohammad Ahmadzai, a spokesman for the Afghan National Police in northern Afghanistan said Wednesday. Three other policemen were wounded.