Iraqi security officials said al-Qaeda in Iraq is largely resorting to recruiting mentally challenged individuals to carry out suicide operations because potential young recruits are refusing to join the organisation.
"Thirty per cent of the recent suicide bombings were conducted by individuals who are mentally challenged or are suffering from psychological disorders," said Col. Hikmat Mahmoud al-Masari, director of media and public relations at the Interior Ministry.
"They did not know or were unaware of what they were doing when al-Qaeda sent them to detonate in the middle of crowds of people," he added.
"Intelligence reports confirm that al-Qaeda is now using the mentally challenged because of a serious shortage of suicide bombers in its ranks," al-Masari said.
"This is the result of increased security measures at the borders, the decline in the number of foreign terrorists entering Iraq and the disinterest of citizens, especially the young, to listen to slogans and calls from terrorist leaders because they no longer believe in them," al-Masari said.
He also attributed it to the decline in funding, which al-Qaeda needs "to recruit and brainwash new members".
Al-Masari said Iraqi security forces are working closely with civil society organisations to provide protection to the mentally challenged by alerting their parents or sending them to special care centres in Baghdad despite the small number of such facilities.
Iraqi police forces arrested an armed cell suspected of belonging to al-Qaeda on July 21st that was involved in recruiting mentally challenged individuals for suicide operations.
"A special unit from the Iraqi Police First Rangers Battalion in Anbar province raided an old residential building overlooking the Euphrates River in the Tameem district in western Ramadi after receiving information from locals about suspects inside the building," said police spokesperson Col. Rahim Zaban.
Zaban said security forces found six gunmen holding three mentally challenged persons aged between 15 and 25 inside a dark basement. They were found in extremely poor health.
"The gunmen admitted during interrogation that they collected these young people from the streets and were holding them for a few days in that house with the intent of equipping them with remote-controlled explosives belts, then allowing them to roam in the markets or approach security centres to carry out heinous terrorist attacks," he said.
Zaban said the initial interrogation revealed that the suspects were involved in a suicide operation involving an autistic person in front of an ice cream shop in Fallujah.
The attack targeted former Fallujah police chief Colonel Saadoun Rajab, leaving him seriously wounded and killing several security personnel.
"It is common knowledge that suicide operations are often conducted by individuals who have lost interest in life either because society has brushed them aside, or they have come to believe in ill-conceived ideas," said Khalil al-Hayess, terrorism expert and leading figure in the Sahwa movement. "But to force a person to commit suicide and kill others with him is something only al-Qaeda would do."
"Al-Qaeda's ideology considers the mentally afflicted as mere animals who can be killed to serve a certain purpose, and their life has no value because they have lost their minds. This is the opposite of what is stated in the Islamic faith about caring for these patients three times more than those suffering from physical illnesses," al-Hayess said.
Efan al-Essawi, a member of parliament's defence and security committee, called for continued international support to confront what he dubbed as dangerous international practice.
"Using the mentally ill is evidence of the barbarity of the enemy that Iraqis are facing," he said. "It is also a sign of crisis inside al-Qaeda in recruiting new suicidal members, because of the absence of popular support for the group in Iraq."