November 10, 2015: Children stab guard on Israeli train

On November 10, 2015 two Palestinians aged 10 and 14 stabbed and wounded an Israeli guard on the Jerusalem light rail system

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL – We often set a lower limit for criminal intent: should we do the same for terrorism?

Several years ago a very disturbing case made headlines around the world. In 1993, one month shy of his third birthday, little James Bulger was killed after having been tortured to death by two 10-year-olds, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, who left him on a railway track to be hit by a train. CCTV footage of the blond toddler walking away from Liverpool’s Strand shopping centre, hand in hand with one of his killers, remains one of the most chilling images of the 20th century.

The two assailants were later found guilty and sentenced to a minimum of eight years, making them Britain’s youngest murderers: they were released in 2001, having served exactly eight years in detention, bringing them to the age of majority (i.e. 18).

What was puzzling was how two boys who had not even reached their teens could carry out such a heinous act. Yes, even little children are capable of cruelty, but murder?

Would you put me on a most wanted list? (Photo: simpleinsomnia on flickr, CC BY 2.0)

From a judicial standpoint most Western societies have elected to treat what are known as ‘young offenders‘ differently. Their crimes, even up to murder in some cases, are considered serious but they tend to get a second chance at 18 and their records are sealed. This is, I suppose, in keeping with giving them a second chance at life, a chance to develop ‘normally’ and rejoin society.

I am not a criminologist nor a psychologist and will hence refrain from weighing in on the usefulness of such a strategy. I will ask, however: should the same approach be used for terrorism?

On this day in 2015

Two Palestinians aged 10 and 14 stabbed and wounded an Israeli guard on the Jerusalem light rail system. The guard was able to fire his weapon at them, wounding one while passengers subdued the other.

I stabbed him in his head, my cousin stabbed him in his chest and stomach until the guard pushed me and fired three bullets in my stomach. I wanted to die as a shahid but now I understand I made a mistake and I am sorry.”

11-year old assailant

In their interrogation, the two children said they carried out the attack as an act of revenge for the death of a relative who was shot dead as he tried to stab a Border Police officer near the Damascus Gate of the Old City on October 10. The 11-year-old was the youngest assailant arrested for terrorism but was too young to face charges under Israeli law: the 14-year-old was charged with attempted murder.

An 11-year old terrorist? The Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be all but irresolvable but what do we take away from a boy who resorts to violent extremism? What chance of a ‘normal’ life does he have now?

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By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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