Use of children in suicide bombings ‘a tactical evolution,’ experts say

Click to play video 'Indonesia suicide bombings work of 2 families: Police' Indonesia suicide bombings work of 2 families: Police
WATCH ABOVE: An Indonesian family brought its 8-year-old daughter to a suicide bomb attack it launched Monday on the police headquarters in the country's second-largest city, authorities said, a day after members of another family conducted coordinated suicide bombings on three city churches.

Three families, including a child as young as eight years old, were involved in ISIS-inspired suicide bombings in Indonesia over the past two days, according to local authorities.

Since the bombings started on Sunday, 31 people have died, including 13 perpetrators and their children in the Indonesian city of Surabaya.

READ MORE: Family of 5, including 8-year-old girl, carries out suicide bombing in Indonesia: police

And while children have been used in suicide bombings before, experts said it’s rare that parents take their own kids to die with them in the attacks.

“This pattern of attack is quite new — it’s something we have not seen in Indonesia before,” Alexander Raymond Arifianto, Indonesia specialist at Nanyang University, told the BBC.

What happened?

On Sunday, a woman targeted a church in Surabaya, with her two daughters, while her husband and their two sons detonated bombs at two others.

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The two daughters were aged 12 and 9 while the two sons were 18 and 16, police said.

Police also suspected the attacks were carried out by a cell of the Islamic State-inspired group Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD).

READ MORE: Family of 6 launches suicide attacks on 3 Indonesian churches, killing at least 13

On Monday morning, a family of five riding on two motorbikes detonated a bomb at the entrance of a police building in the same city. An eight-year-old girl who was with the attackers survived the blast and was taken to the hospital.

“We hope the child will recover. We believe she was thrown three metres or so into the air by the impact of the explosion and then fell to the ground,” East Java police spokesman Frans Barung Mangera said.

WARNING: Video contains graphic content. Discretion is advised.

Click to play video 'Suicide bomb targets police headquarters in Surabaya' Suicide bomb targets police headquarters in Surabaya
Suicide bomb targets police headquarters in Surabaya

In another incident in Sidoarjo, south of Surabaya, police recovered pipe bombs at an apartment where an explosion killed three members of a family alleged to have been making bombs, Karnavian said. Three children from the family survived and were taken to the hospital.

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President Joko Widodo branded the attacks in Surabaya the “act of cowards,” and pledged to push through a new anti-terrorism bill to combat Islamist militant networks.

Use of children in terrorist attacks?

The use of children in terrorist plots is nothing new. But the terror attacks in Indonesia did have a new element to them, as the parents brought their children with them.

“It’s rare for women to bring children with them when they conduct an attack,” Jessica Davis, former CSIS intel analyst and author of Women in Modern Terrorism, said.  “Usually they leave them with relatives.”

“But terror attacks are increasingly using children for attacks. Boko Haram has been doing so for years, with some children as young as seven,” she added.

A 2016 UNICEF report said 75 per cent of the children used by Boko Haram for suicide bombings are girls, emphasizing that these kids, many believed captives, are “victims, not perpetrators.”

READ MORE: Nigerian teenage girl rips off suicide bomb vest, flees Boko Haram

Alex Wilner, assistant professor of International Affairs at Carleton University, said ISIS has taken the concept of a “child soldier” and revolutionized it with the use of training camps.

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“There are schools where children are indoctrinated in the hold of ISIS and trained in the use of violence,” he said.

“The use of children on this trajectory is a tactical innovation,” Wilner added. “Security forces are not looking for women or children who use violence, so it provides an opportunity for children to set off explosives.”

WATCH: Boko Haram reportedly using child suicide bombers

ISIS seeks to manipulate these children in hopes of growing future militants — young men and women who will carry on the vision for the caliphate and a willingness to die for the cause, he said.

Wilner and Davis both agree that children have no choice when it comes to these attacks.

“Children are so young and impressionable,” Wilner said. “In this case, their parents murdered them.”

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Could this happen again?

Davis said terror groups are increasingly using “multiple bombers” for attacks. So using a family to carry out a bombing seems like a “natural extension of this,” she added.

“It also increases media attention because it so awful,” she said.

WATCH: ISIS training children to be killers

Click to play video 'ISIS training children to be killers' ISIS training children to be killers
ISIS training children to be killers

Wilner said because there were fatalities in the Indonesian attacks there may be copycats in the future.

“If the targets have a certain result, then that methodology may be used by other groups. So it’s possible that other families around the globe may decide to do what they did. Perhaps in the future … it’s a tactical evolution is to use children and families.”

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READ MORE: ISIS attacks could increase abroad, despite loss of territory and finances

“ISIS likes all violence in its name … it does not care if it’s women, children or men,” he said.

— With files from Reuters