Recently released American diplomatic cables have revealed Saudi Arabian and United Arab Emirate donors to be spending $100 million a year to fund a Pakistani network of jihadist religious schools. While these Islamic schools — known as madrassas — are better known as places to recruit and train young boys and girls as terrorist fighters and suicide bombers, they have other equally disturbing uses.
Madrassas have been cited as major links to terrorist organizations, providing militant groups juvenile recruits, organizational bases, transit points and military training. While wealthy Arab donors have long been suspected of funding them, the diplomatic documents also pointed to direct active support by both the Saudi Arabian and UAE governments.
Most of the funds in question were sent to madrassas in Pakistan’s Punjab province. Despite a reputation as the most moderate of Pakistani provinces, reports from 2008 have claimed anywhere from 5,000 to 9,000 Punjab children to be fighting in Afghanistan.
In either case, the Pakistanis, according to the cables, reportedly turned a fearful blind eye to the issue, stating “The provincial and federal governments, while fully aware of the problem, appear to fear direct confrontation with these extremist groups.”
According to the cable the juveniles — as young as age 8 — were being recruited from mostly large, poverty stricken families. As such, each child’s family would receive a $6500 compensation as well as “God’s favor,” if the child happened to be martyred along the way.
Once enrolled in the madrassa, children would then be isolated from direct contact with the outside world and “taught sectarian extremism and hatred for non-Muslims.” After several months of indoctrination, they would then be sent to more established training camps before going on to wage jihad, either as combat insurgents or as suicide bombers.
So successful are madrassas as jihad producers that it has been reported that all the leaders and cadres of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT); 90 percent of the Taliban’s leaders and cadres; and 70 percent of the leaders and cadres of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) are madrassa alumni.
As centers of anti-Western hate, madrassas litter the entire Muslim world, but the ones in Pakistan are the most extensive and well organized. While Pakistan’s government accounts for 11,221 registered madrassas, the estimates of unregistered madrassas range from 20,000 to 45,000 with a student population between 1.1 and to 1.9 million.
Moreover, Pakistan’s Islamic jihadist schools are home to the largest contingent of foreign nationals, hailing from such places as Afghanistan, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Uzbekistan, Chechnya, Yemen, Somalia, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Australia, Western Europe and North America.
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