By the time the teenage Taliban member had completed his training as a suicide bomber and reached the 30-strong fighting unit to which he had been assigned, he was so indoctrinated that all he could think about was killing himself and taking as many infidels with him as possible.
Changing location every night to avoid detection, the 19-year-old waited for the delivery of the explosive vest that he would strap to his chest before blowing himself up next to an American convoy.
“Of course I wasn’t scared. I was proud I was going to become a shaheed [martyr]. I knew that if I martyred myself killing American soldiers, then I’d taste eternity,” said the young man, who gave his name as Toryelai.
He has yet to launch his attack, however. The commander of his Taliban unit, a 42-year-old who called himself Mullah Aminullah, has told him that to do so would be un-Islamic.
“The Koran teaches that your life is a gift from Allah and you should struggle to preserve this life at all costs. Suicide is 100% haram [forbidden],” Aminullah said.
The story of Toryelai, which highlights divisions among insurgents over suicide bombing, begins with a 10-year-old boy whose father has been shot dead while fighting the Taliban’s enemies in the Northern Alliance. The body was “covered in blood” when the Taliban brought it to the family home for burial.
Toryelai’s family were desperately poor, relying on neighbours to buy them food. His cousins sent him to a madrasah at the Shamshato refugee camp in Peshawar, Pakistan.
There, religious teachers assessed him as both destitute and malleable — the perfect combination for a suicide bomber. At 13 he was selected for possible “martyrdom”.
Toryelai was lectured daily about the importance of jihad and the possibility of reaching paradise early through an operation against “the invaders” of Afghanistan.
In the dormitories, Toryelai and his classmates swapped mobile phone footage of Nato soldiers raiding Afghan homes.
“I will never forget the screams of the women and children after the raids. This had a huge impact on me,” said Toryelai, his voice shaking.
In a meeting on the outskirts of Kabul last week, Toryelai was eager to explain why Taliban fighters like himself were mounting their bloody insurgency against Nato soldiers.
His teachers had shown videos from Iraq, he said, along with images portraying the sexual abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib: “We could see for the first time how sick America was; how disgustingly they behaved towards Muslims.”
After three years at the madrasah, Toryelai and his class of about 50 recruits were taken to a muddy training camp an hour’s drive from Miramshah, North Waziristan, where they spent a further two years learning how to blow themselves up, he said: “We were committed to jihad. We spent our time talking about dying, talking about God and thinking about killing Americans.”
Their Pakistani Taliban trainers taught the boys how to choose a target, how to check the electrical circuitry of an explosive vest, how to detonate it and how to drive a car rigged as a bomb. “We were going to operate in threes mostly,” Toryelai said.
“The first bomber would detonate the explosives at the first checkpoint. The two others would run into the crowd in the confusion … to get as close to the next target as possible. We were told to kill as many people as possible.”
The recruits studied videos of Taliban suicide missions, learning how to emulate successful attacks and how to avoid mistakes.
On Wednesdays and Sundays, two Arab men in their late forties came to the lessons, taking notes but never speaking. “Everyone knew they were Al-Qaeda,” said Toryelai.
Two months ago, one of Toryelai’s trainers told him the time had come for him to go to paradise. He was instructed to join a band of fighters in Wardak province and await details of his mission.
Mullah Aminullah, a softly spoken Pashtun, was ordered to hide him in Jilga district, where the Taliban unit was attacking convoys of American and Afghan soldiers.
“As a suicide bomber I was deeply respected by the other fighters. I was more educated than most of them. They gave me the best food,” said Toryelai.
According to Aminullah, Toryelai barely spoke. He sat alone, reciting verses from the Koran or repeating the 99 names of Allah as if in a trance. Some of the fighters thought he was arrogant; others that he had mental problems.
“His mind had been taken from him,” said Aminullah.
During his two years as the group’s commander, Aminullah had sheltered eight other young suicide bombers like Toryelai and convinced two of them to overcome their passion for killing themselves.
Aminullah, who also received religious and military training in Pakistan, believes suicide bombing is not only un-Islamic but also undermines support for the Taliban.
Civilian casualties jumped by 31% in the first six months of this year, according to the United Nations. Three-quarters of these deaths are blamed on the insurgents.
Aminullah said: “Each innocent civilian killed in these bombings turns the people against us. I rely on the community for food and shelter. I cannot afford to frighten them away.”
Aminullah took Toryelai to see other mullahs who spoke against suicide bombing. Arguments raged. But after four weeks Toryelai was persuaded.
“They told me about the civilians they had seen killed in suicide bombs. They read me verses of the Koran I had never heard before that said it was wrong to kill yourself, even in jihad,” Toryelai said.
Aminullah witnessed a change in him. “Slowly he became more open with us. He spoke of his past and he became friendly. It’s always the people from the poorest families … who are selected to become suicide bombers.”
Some Afghan Taliban oppose any killing of civilians and say suicide bombing is a Pakistani export designed to destabilise their country. Others believe any method of killing infidels on their soil is justified.
Aminullah said if the Pakistan-aligned Taliban found out that he had convinced three suicide bombers to abandon their missions, he would be killed. But his hatred of Nato forces keeps him fighting.
“I told Toryelai that if he didn’t blow himself up, he could kill more Americans and foreigners,” Aminullah said. “We want Nato to leave before we can return home to live a normal life with our families.”