Monday, May 22, 2006

Scum of the Earth

I was going to write a quick post on my trip around Indonesia over the past few weeks but that can wait. Religious biases aside, the reproduced article below makes you despair at the human race. I can only hope someone can prove the article is not true! if you want to see it for yourself it for yourself go here and look under "scum of the earth"

Osama group in boy slave racket
Marie Colvin, Muridke, Pakistan
May 22, 2006
THE slave traders came for 10-year-old Akash Aziz as he played cops and robbers in his dusty village in eastern Punjab.
Akash, still in the maroon jumper and tie he had worn to school that day, was pretending to be a "robber".

But as he crouched behind a wall, waiting for the school friend designated as the "cop" to find him, a large man with a turban and a beard grabbed him from behind and clamped a cloth over his nose and mouth before he could cry for help.

He recalls a strange smell and a choking sensation. "Then I fainted," said Akash, a delicate little boy from a loving family who takes pride in his enthusiasm for English lessons.

Akash woke up in a dark room with a bare brick floor and no windows. The heat was suffocating. As he languished there over the next month, 19 other panic-stricken boys were thrown into the room with him.

The children, all Christians, had fallen into the hands of Gul Khan, a wealthy Islamic militant and leading member of Jamaat-ud Daawa, a group linked to the al-Qa'ida terrorist network.

Khan lives near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, but when in the Punjab he stays at the JUD's headquarters in Muridke, near Lahore, where young men can be seen practising martial arts with batons on rolling green lawns patrolled by guards with Kalashnikovs.

Osama bin Laden funded the centre in the late 1990s.

The JUD, which claims to help the poor, says it has created a "pure Islamic environment" at Muridke that is superior to Western "depravity".

Khan's activities explode that myth. He planned to sell his young captives to the highest bidder, whether into domestic servitude or the sex trade. The boys knew only that they were for sale.

This is the story of the misery that Akash and his friends, aged six to 12, endured in captivity; of their rescue by Christian missionaries who bought their freedom and tried to expose the kidnappers; and of the children's reunions with their families, who had thought them dead.

Last week I had the privilege of taking six of the boys home to their parents, including Akash. The astonishment of mothers and fathers who had given up hope, and the fervent, tearful embraces made these some of the most emotional scenes I have witnessed.

That joy was a long time coming. In captivity, the boys were ordered not to talk, pray or play. Five of them were playing a Pakistani equivalent of "paper, scissors, rock" one day when the guards burst in and beat them savagely on their backs and heads. On another occasion, Akash was repeatedly struck by guards yelling: "What is in your house?"

"I kept telling them, 'We have nothing'," he said. "I was so afraid they would go back and rob my father and mother." It is painful to imagine blows raining down on the ribs of so slight a figure.

The guards mostly sat outside playing cards. The boys were allowed out of their room only to use a filthy hole-in-the-ground lavatory. All they could see were the high walls around the two-room building that was their prison. The other room was always kept locked.

The children were fed once a day on chapatis and dhal, but never enough.

I first saw Akash in a photograph among those of 20 boys who were being touted for sale in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan on the Afghanistan border, notorious as a smugglers' paradise and home to fugitives of the Taliban and al-Qa'ida. He was just another black market commodity along with guns, grenades and hashish.

Unbeknown to Akash, a Pakistani Christian missionary and an American evangelist who runs a tiny charity called Help Pakistani Children, had seen the boys' photographs and taken up their cause. Neither man is willing to be identified today for fear of the consequences.

An elaborate sting was set up. The Pakistani missionary would pose as a Lahore businessman named Amir seeking boys to use as beggars who would give their cash to him.

The two men would collect evidence that could be used in any police action against the kidnappers. "We knew if we just purchased the boys, the slavers would just restock. We would be fuelling the slave trade," said the US evangelist, who asked to be referred to as "Brother David".

The two men had no idea how hazardous their enterprise was until Amir used some black market contacts to engineer a meeting with Khan and discovered his links to the JUD.

"We realised we were out of our depth," Brother David said ruefully. But they persevered.

Amir played his part well. Within a week he had bought three of the boys for $US5000 ($6600) and put down a $US2500 deposit on the 17 others, including Akash.

The first three were handed over on a Quetta street in April and returned to their families. But Khan wanted $US28,500 for the lot. He gave Amir two months to come up with the money, saying he did not mind if the deadline was missed - he could earn more if he sold them for their organs, he said.

Brother David went home to the US to raise funds. Amir travelled again and again to Quetta, taking Khan to lunch. He enlisted police officers who insisted the eventual transaction be recorded with a secret camera so the evidence against Khan would be irrefutable.

Twelve days ago, Amir received a call from Khan summoning him to a meeting at a crossroads on a dirt road near the JUD's Muridke camp.

Amir finally found his quarry under a large shady tree, where he was sitting on a rope bed while an acolyte massaged his shoulders. "You have the money?" Khan asked.

When Amir handed him the cash in a black knapsack, he examined it briskly. But he broke his promise to hand over the boys there and then.

"I will check the dollars are real first," Khan said. "If your dollars are good, you will get the children." Another anxious wait ensued. Finally, a call came through from Amir's assistant in the dead of night.

Akash had just been dropped off by the side of a road 15 minutes' drive from JUD headquarters with the remaining 17 boys.

I drove there immediately and found Akash asleep on a plastic mat surrounded by his 16 friends.

As the children awoke, the bewilderment showed in their eyes. The first task of the missionaries was to reassure them, but few seemed to believe Brother David when he said: "We will protect you. We will take you home to your mothers and fathers. The bad men who took you are gone."

Not one boy smiled. It had been too long since they had dared to hope.

Akash shook as we approached his village. I thought he would collapse. Then came a quiet, uplifting moment that brought tears to my eyes.

He had not even reached the door of his house before his grandmother, wrapped in a colourful shawl, engulfed him in an embrace in the dirt alley outside, her face lit up with delight.

Akash's mother was so strangely impassive it made me angry until I realised she was too shocked to take in the fact the son she had thought was dead was snuggling up to her. Finally, she hugged him, kissing him over and over again on the top of his head. "We were hopeless," she said. "His father searched and searched. We prayed. But we thought he was gone."

Brother David and Amir are ready to present their dossier of evidence, including the secret tape of Khan taking the money for the boys.

In almost any other country, an investigation into Khan and his work for the JUD would be automatic. It is not so simple in Pakistan. President Pervez Musharraf has announced numerous crackdowns on religious militants, but the extremists continue to gather strength.

The Sunday Times


treespotter said...

haven't read it proper. huh! i am so disappointed, you should write of your trip instead. we want you! we want you! we want you! we want you! we want you!

glad the dayaks didn't do anything funny there

oigal said...

You will, I must confess I am being a bit lazy but just back and a "gazillion" emails n junk to go through and the trip was an epic..even got held up at "rock point"..sheesh so it will take some time to write it up and change the names to protect the stupid (me)