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BAQOUBA, Iraq — The 14-year-old girl sounded bold as she sat in Diyala province’s Iraqi Police headquarters, awaiting further interrogation Monday after being caught wearing a suicide vest the day before.

"I’m not scared," the Sunni girl said through a translator, referring to possible punishment that could include execution. "Two women forced me to wear it."

The young girl, who later gave her first name as Rania, was confident she had nothing to do with an alleged suicide attack attempt. She claimed her husband’s family drugged her and fitted her with a C4 explosive vest packed with nails.

Iraqi Police painted the incident as a continuation of an al-Qaida in Iraq tactic that has plagued the Diyala region: More than 20 women have become suicide bombers in the past few months, killing scores of people. This was the first bomber to be captured alive, police said.

After questioning the girl and her mother, the police chief of Diyala province, Maj. Gen. Abdul al-Kareem Khaleef, said he believed the mother is a local al-Qaida leader who recruits girls to be suicide bombers.

"The family is all criminals," Khaleef said through a translator. "But she is only a child. Maybe she doesn’t understand why she did it."

On Sunday, police noticed the girl approaching them in a bulky purple and orange dress. They were blocking off a section of the city where two gunmen shot and killed a policeman and wounded four civilians earlier in the day.

A policeman quickly pulled the girl’s hands behind her back to prevent her from triggering the explosives belt, officers said. They then handcuffed her and found the device.

Iraqi Police Brig. Gen. Aaid Ali Khadim, commander of Diyala’s explosive ordnance disposal teams, praised the police for foiling a potential attack.

"I can’t believe it," he said through a translator. "We saved a lot of people’s lives. Al-Qaida uses women to blow themselves up because they are easier to brainwash," he said. "It’s also easier for them to hide explosives."

"In our culture, we can’t touch or search the bodies of women," he said, adding that Diyala’s Iraqi police has recently hired female police officers to do this job.

On Monday, Khaleef showed U.S. Army soldiers a video of the vest being disarmed by police and the impromptu interrogation.

In the video, the girl pleads ignorance and denies any involvement with al-Qaida.

At the police headquarters, the girl, draped in a traditional black full-body abaya, told Stars and Stripes that she felt "dizzy" after drinking a juice provided to her by her husband’s family. She was then ordered to don the vest and walk into Baqouba without touching the trigger, she said.

"I didn’t think it would explode," she said of the vest. She added that she tried to deliver the vest to police.

Her mother sat next to her inside the police station and rejected claims that she works for al-Qaida and that she knew about her daughter’s involvement as a suicide bomber. "I didn’t know anything about my daughter with a suicide vest," she said. "I never worked for al-Qaida."

The girl said she had been married to her 22-year-old husband for only nine months. She was not aware that her husband, a former U.S.-funded "Sons of Iraq" fighter, allegedly had links to the group.

"We just found out that he worked for al-Qaida," Rania said.

Al-Qaida fighters prey on young women who are uneducated from poor villages to carry out suicide attacks, said U.S. soldiers, who were granted permission to question the girl.

"They’re professionals," said Sgt. Richard Forbes-Watkins, of the 202nd Military Police Company. "They twist the facts to make it sound right for this young person to do."

"They got their whole lives ahead of them," said Forbes-Watkins, 43, of Phoenix. "How can you convince them that their lives are over?"


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