[anzac] CHILD SLAVES FREED - Please Read

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From: "REVIVAL List" <prophetic@...>
Date: Thu, 25 May 2006 13:40:21 -0500
"Child SLAVES FREED"

Important:  Many of you will be able to guess who "Brother David"
is in the below article. If you decide to forward this to others or talk
about it online, we ask you please NOT to identify him or his work
in any way. The slave traders that he helped to expose are from
Terrorist groups with strong links to Al-Qaeda. So please do not
mention his real name - or even your "guesses" at his real name.
-But you can certainly forward it as-is. Thankyou so much.


THE SUNDAY TIMES, May 21, 2006
"RESCUED – the Pakistan children seized by Islamist slave traders"
-by Marie Colvin.

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 V-neck sweater and tie that he had worn to
school that day, was a “robber”. But as he crouched behind a wall,
waiting for the schoolfriend 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 child from a loving family that
takes pride in his enthusiasm for English lessons at school.
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 (JUD), a group linked to the Al-Qaeda
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 that 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 moving reunions with their loved ones who had
believed they were dead. Last week I had the privilege of taking
six of the boys home to their families, including Akash. The
astonishment of mothers and fathers who had given up hope and
the fervent, tearful embraces made these some of the most
intensely emotional scenes I have witnessed. That joy was a long
time coming.

On the first day after his abduction, Akash was left in no doubt
about the brutality of the regime he would endure. “I drank from a
glass of water and one of the kidnappers pushed me so hard I fell
on the glass and it broke in my hands,” he said. His slender fingers
still bear the scars. No more glass for him, he was told: he was fit
to drink only from a tin cup. The boys were ordered not to talk,
pray or play. Five of them were playing a Pakistani equivalent of
scissors, paper, stone 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 anxiously.
“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, shaded from the
116 F heat by a tree. But the boys were allowed out of their room
only to use a filthy hole-in-the-ground lavatory. All they could see
were high walls around the two-room building that was their prison.
The other room was always locked. The children were fed once a
day on chapatis and dhal, but never enough. Akash slept huddled
against the others on the floor and woke each morning a little more
resigned to his fate. “We just sat around the walls thinking,” Akash
said. “We were remembering our homes and our mothers and
fathers and hoping someone would rescue us. But nobody came.”

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 renowned as a smugglers’ paradise and
home to fugitives of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. 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 conceived. 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 also 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 American evangelist, who asked
to be referred to as “Brother David”. They 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 — and prayed a good deal.
Amir played his part well. Within a week he had bought three of
the boys for $5,000 (£2,650) and put down a $2,500 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 $28,500 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 claimed.

Brother David went home to America to raise funds. Amir travelled
again and again to Quetta, taking Khan to lunch as his bodyguards
lounged outside in pickup trucks, their Kalashnikovs at the ready.
He enlisted police officers who insisted that the eventual transaction
be recorded with a secret camera so that 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. There was no cover here, just newly harvested wheatfields
and water buffalo wallowing in a pond. Six policemen dressed as
labourers with the intention of alerting colleagues in cars concealed
a mile away to arrest Khan once the cash had been exchanged
for the children. Amir and a young assistant waited for an hour at
the crossroads before one of Khan’s men walked up and directed
him to another location. The police had been wrong-footed. 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
$28,500 cash in a black knapsack, he examined it briskly. Then,
without explanation, he broke his promise to hand over the boys
there and then. “I will check the dollars are real first,” he said. “If
your dollars are good, you will get the children.” A second blow
followed. Khan announced that he was going to take Amir’s
assistant as hostage. If the money was real, he said, the children
would be delivered in two hours. If it was counterfeit, the hostage
would not be seen again. It was a heart-stopping moment, not
least because the young man posing as Amir’s bag carrier had
hidden the secret camera under his shirt. Amir motioned him to
the back of his car as if to retrieve something from the boot, and
ripped the camera from his body. The hostage was blindfolded
and driven to a building where he was held alone in a room. “I was
so praying that your money was good,” he later told Amir. Another
anxious wait ensued. The police were off the scene and the two
hours passed with no word from the kidnappers. Nor was there
any news the next day.

Finally, a call came through from Amir’s assistant in the dead of
night. He had just been dropped off by the side of a road 15
minutes’ drive from JUD headquarters with the remaining 17 boys.
They were afraid but alive, he declared. They were being taken to
a shack nearby. I drove there immediately and found Akash asleep
on a plastic mat surrounded by his 16 friends. Their thin limbs were
sprawled and their bodies curled against each other for comfort.
One boy gripped the sleeve of another as he slept. They stank of
urine.

 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. Yet after a cold wash
under an outdoor tap and a change into fresh clothes, preparations
began for the the first of the long car journeys back to their homes
in remote Punjab villages.

As the boys gradually warmed to their liberators, they talked a
little about their ordeal. Asif Anjed, 8, one of the smallest, had the
biggest personality. But his concept of  time was so childish that
when I asked him how long it had been since he had seen his
parents, he thought hard for a moment and  said: “Six or seven
years.” It had been five months.

Asif had retained a sense of outrage from the moment of his
abduction. “They put me in a bag!”  he kept saying indignantly. He
picked out a bright orange T-shirt because he liked its bear logo,
the symbol of a football team in Chicago. Like Akash, Asif said he
had lost consciousness when a man with a beard and turban put a
rag over his mouth. He became indignant again when I asked
whether he had tried to escape. “The men told us if we ran out of
the door they would cut our throats,” he said.

Asif seemed to have few memories of home. “My friend was Bilal,”
he said. He grew quiet when he realised he had  forgotten what his
mother looked like. As if exhausted by the effort of trying to
remember, he fell asleep across my lap during the 15-hour drive to
his home in the desert of southern Punjab on the Indian border.

As we drew near, the garrulous Asif looked solemn, perhaps not
knowing quite what to expect. At a place where fertile green fields
gave way to white desert sands, he pointed to his house at the
end of a path across a stretch of wasteland. His father, Amjed,
must have seen him getting out of the car. He came running out of
the house, barely able to believe that the boy walking hesitantly
towards him in plastic sandals was his son. Then he flung out his
arms, scooped up Asif and squeezed him against his chest. Asif’s
mother, Gazzala, came bustling down the path as fast as she
could in her flowered salwar kameez, dragging his younger sister,
Neha, by the hand. She collapsed on her knees in front of Asif, her
only other child, weeping and clutching him to her, the long
months of anguish etched into the lines on her face. Like any other
boy of his age, Asif seemed embarrassed by these extreme
displays of emotion, glowering as his mother clung to him for
longer than he would have liked.

Both parents remembered every detail of the day their boy had
failed to return home from school. Asif’s father manages a small
chicken farm and usually collects him on a bicycle for the 3km
ride. He still cannot forgive himself for staying home to work that
day. When Asif did not appear his father started a frantic search,
stopping strangers on his bicycle to ask, “Have you seen my little
boy?” In common with other families, Asif’s did not go to the
police. “The police will only take interest if they are paid and we
have nothing,” Amjed said. “We thought someone had killed him,”
his mother added, the tears streaming down her cheeks. “I
couldn’t stop imagining that maybe they had broken his arms and
legs.” As the reality sank in, both parents began to smile. They
looked at Asif in shock as he repeated his customary line —“they
put me in a bag” — but were soon planning a family feast to
celebrate. “It’s a miracle!” Amjed said.

Khan would also be shocked if he knew that his captives had not
been sold into slavery. Their rescuers fear retribution and are also
worried because the exposure of Khan has implications for the
way religious extremist groups are treated in Pakistan. Even the
police said the reach of such groups was too long for them to be
dealt with in a straightforward way. Why should it be so difficult to
prosecute slave traders who cloak themselves in the garb of pious
Muslims? For one thing, the JUD offers free medical care and
education and won hearts and minds by providing blankets, tents
and food after last year’s Kashmir earthquake. Few Pakistanis
care to know how closely it is associated with Lashkar-i-Toiba, a
group proscribed by Pakistan and Britain as a terrorist organisation
that participated in an Al-Qaeda attempt to assassinate Pervez
Musharraf, the Pakistani president, in 2003.

There can be no denying Khan’s connections with the JUD. After
he collected his $28,500, he was seen driving directly into its
headquarters. 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. Musharraf has announced numerous
crackdowns on the extremist religious militants but the extremists
continue to gather strength. The stories of these boys cry out for
action. “The slavers must be stopped and brought to justice,”
Brother David said. “I pray that a public outcry will arise in Pakistan
and around the world that will put an end to their vile business.”

Akash, the first boy to be returned to his family, constitutes the
strongest possible case for an end to child trafficking. For the first
few hours of the journey to his village, Akash sat on the edge of
the back seat next to me. He rested his hands on the front seats,
gazing out through the windscreen, answering any question with a
monosyllable and flexing his fingers over and over again. He
recalled that his best friend was called Rashed — they played
cricket together — but he could not remember the name of his school.

He shook as we approached his village. I thought he would
collapse. Then came a quiet, uplifting moment that brought tears
to my eyes. The driver stopped by a canal to ask directions.
Taking the initiative for the first time, Akash tentatively raised his
arm, pointing down a narrow dirt road running with sewage. 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 contorted with delight. Akash’s mother was
so strangely impassive that it made me angry until I realised she
was too shocked to take in the fact that 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.”

Akash had another surprise waiting for him at home: a two-month-
old brother he had never seen. Home at last, resting against his
mother, he smiled broadly for the first time and, just a few hours
after getting into a car for the first time, declared his ambition to
become a pilot.
~Copyright 2006 Times Newspapers Ltd.

To find out more, please go to Brother David's website-
http://www.helppakistanchildren.org/
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