A Palestinian vendor displays necklaces showing former Iraqi
President Saddam Hussein in his shop in the West Bank town of Jenin,
Thursday, Jan. 11, 2007. [AP]
Cairo, Egypt - The boys' deaths, scattered in the United States, in Yemen, in
Turkey and elsewhere in seemingly isolated horror, had one thing in common: They
hanged themselves after watching televised images of Saddam Hussein's execution.
Officials and relatives say the children appeared to be mimicking the former
dictator's Dec. 30 hanging, shown both on a sanitized Iraqi government tape and
explicit clandestine videos that popped up on Web sites and some TV channels.
The leaked videos, apparently taken by cell phone cameras, set off
international outrage over the raucous scene at Saddam's execution, but some
experts are more concerned about the images of the deposed Iraqi leader dropping
through the gallows floor and his body swinging at the end of a rope.
The experts say such graphic images can severely affect youngsters who do not
yet understand the consequences of death and violence, especially because
Saddam's death received intense international attention.
"They see how it's done, but they don't think it's horrific, and they're more
likely to imitate it," said Hisham Ramy, an associate professor of psychiatry at
Ain Shams University in Cairo.
A day after Saddam's execution, a 10-year-old boy in Texas hanged himself
from a bunk bed after watching a news report on the execution. Police in the
Houston suburb of Webster said the boy, Sergio Pelico, tied a slipknot around
his neck while on the bed but had not mean to kill himself.
"I don't think he thought it was real," Julio Gustavo, Sergio's uncle, said
afterward. "They showed them putting the noose around his neck and everything.
Why show that on TV?"
Something similar occurred in Turkey, where 12-year-old Alisen Akti hanged
himself Wednesday from a bunk bed after watching TV footage. His father, Esat
Akti, told a newspaper in the southeastern province of Mus that his son had been
affected by the televised images.
"After watching Saddam's execution he was constantly asking 'How was Saddam
killed?' and 'Did he suffer?'" Akti was quoted as saying. "These television
images are responsible for my son's death."
Nine-year-old Mubassahr Ali, from the eastern Pakistan town of Rahim Yar
Khan, died hours after Saddam when he also mimicked the ousted leader's
execution, local police official Sultan Ahmed Chaudhry said.
"The ill-fated boy used a long piece of cloth, tied it with a ceiling fan and
wrapped its other end around his neck. Then he stood on a chair and fell down,"
In Yemen, at least two young boys died and another was injured in apparent
imitations of Saddam's hanging.
One of the cases involved a 13-year-old junior high school student who hanged
himself after watching Saddam's execution on television, a Yemeni security
When the boy's family returned to their home outside the capital, San'a, on
Wednesday, they found him hanging from a tree wearing a traditional Arab
headdress, said the boy's cousin, Yahya al-Hammadi.
In Saudi Arabia, a 12-year-old boy was found by his brother hanging from an
iron door with a rope around his neck, the newspaper Okaz reported. The boy,
Sultan Abdullah al-Shemmeri, lived with his family in the province of Hafr
al-Baten, near the Iraqi border.
"The child was just 12 years old and didn't really know whether the execution
of Saddam was something good or bad," a Saudi Interior Ministry official said
Saturday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not
authorized to speak to the press.
Local media in Algeria and India also have reported other mimicking deaths,
but these could not immediately be confirmed.
Ramy, the professor in Egypt, said children are prone to imitating violence
they encounter on television, the Internet and movies, but usually they act out
against another person. Mimicking a hanging or suicide is unusual, but perhaps
in this case it is unsurprising, he said.
Because "some people have said Saddam is a hero and martyr and have glorified
his death, this has affected children," Ramy said.
But Jasem Hajia, a child psychologist in Kuwait City, cautioned against
placing all the blame on video images. "This is extreme, and I think there were
physiological disorders as well with the children," Hajia said.