Videos Show Al-Qaida Training Boys in Iraq, U.S. Military Says

BAGHDAD -- Boys in football jerseys don black masks and grab weapons. They scramble over mud-brick walls, blast down doors and hold guns to the heads of residents inside.

The U.S. military said videos seized from suspected al-Qaida in Iraq hideouts show militants training children who appear as young as 10 to kidnap and kill. It's viewed as a sign that the terror network -- hungry for recruits -- may be using younger Iraqis in propaganda to lure a new crop of fighters.

"Al-Qaida in Iraq wants to poison the next generation of Iraqis," said Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, a U.S. military spokesman.

"It is offering children as the new generation of mujahedeen," he added, using the Arabic term for holy warriors.

The video, shown to reporters this week, depicted an apparent training session with black-masked boys -- ammunition belts draped across their small chests -- forcing a man off his bicycle at gunpoint and marching him off down a muddy lane. An off-camera voice, speaking with an Iraqi accent, instructs children how to take firing positions with assault rifles.

At one point, the boys huddle in a circle on a cement floor, solemnly pledging allegiance to al-Qaida.

U.S. and Iraqi officials said they could offer no estimate of how many children have joined the insurgency.

Young children are rarely behind insurgent attacks in Iraq, though they have been used as decoys.

The military said the videos -- seized in a December raid in Khan Bani Saad northeast of Baghdad -- were filmed in Iraq and depicted Iraqi children, but offered no definitive evidence.