A U.K. teenager who fled the country to join the Islamic State militant group is believed to have become Britain’s youngest suicide bomber after reportedly blowing himself up in Iraq. Talha Asmal, 17, was part of a group of four suicide bombers who attacked Iraqi security forces near an oil refinery in the northern town of Baiji, the Guardian reported Sunday.
Photos released by the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, show Asmal, who is believed to have gone by the name Abu Yusuf al-Britani, next to a black Toyota SUV where he appeared to be taking instructions from a commander. A statement by the terror group on Saturday identified him as one of four suicide bombers, including a German, a Kuwaiti and a Palestinian, all of whom were photographed standing beside SUVs.
If confirmed, Asmal would become the youngest known British suicide bomber. The teen is thought to have fled his home in West Yorkshire in March and allegedly traveled with a friend to Turkey in order to join the Islamic State group, the Guardian reported. West Yorkshire police have yet to confirm his death. “The police have been made aware of media reports with regard to the death of a British national in Iraq,” the department said in a statement. “The identity of the person who has reportedly died has not been confirmed at this time and we are unable to comment further.”
Asmal’s family said on Sunday that they were “devastated” by the news that he had taken part in the attack. "Talha was a loving, kind, caring and affable teenager,” the family said in a statement reported by the BBC. "Talha's tender years and naivety were it seems however exploited by persons unknown who, hiding behind the anonymity of the world wide web, targeted and befriended Talha and engaged in a process of deliberate and calculated grooming of him.”
At least 11 Iraqi security forces were killed in the suicide bombings on Saturday. An army official said Saturday that the vehicles used by ISIS were identical, brand new SUVS that looked like an official convoy. At least 26 people were also wounded in the attack, which comes as part of a larger military offensive by the group in Iraq’s Salahuddin province, the site of one of the country’s largest oil refineries.