Boko Haram’s Girl Bombs

Islamic State’s gruesome acts fill the headlines, but in Nigeria and nearby states, Boko Haram is engaging in acts just as disturbing.

Boko Haram has been active in their quest to bring an Islamic state to Nigeria since 2009, although the group has been around since 2002.

It wasn’t until June 2014 that they began to employ a new tactic: suicide bombers. These suicide bombers are seen as unique in that many of the bombers are girls, some as young as 10. What makes this even more disturbing – if possible – is that it coincides with Boko Haram’s campaign of mass kidnapping, most notably the Chibok schoolgirls. (Note – it has not been confirmed if any of the Chibok girls have been used as bombers.)

Female suicide bombers aren’t new. They’ve most infamously been employed by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE or Tamil Tigers). Perhaps the most well-known female suicide bombers are Russia’s Black Widows. Disturbingly, child bombers aren’t new, either. The Taliban has been known to use children – both boys and girls – as bombers on occasion. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, children were picked individually and groomed for the task. What is worrisome about the Boko Haram bombers is the frequency of use and the ages of the girls involved. More importantly, how they are being made into bombers?

There are several possible scenarios in regards to the women and girls being bombers. The first is that the woman willingly take on the task, as like the Black Widows. They choose to blow themselves up out of duty or shame. Nigeria is still very much a patriarchal society, where women are seen as inferior or property. Many of the women and girls stolen by Boko Haram are raped, bringing shame upon her and her family. A second scenario involves coercion. These women are told to carry out an attack out of threats to them or their families, although the idea that they are being brainwashed with Boko Haram’s ideology is is possible. Brainwashing could also play a role in the final scenario: the youngest girls sent out wearing explosives and blown up remotely. This is the most disturbing of the scenarios as these girls would have little to no idea what is happening to them. A girl that young could be told anything to get her to walk into a crowd.

Despite the announcement in March by then-president Goodluck Jonathan that Boko Haram was getting weaker, they continue to launch attacks. Just this year, Boko Haram has conducted nearly 20 suicide attacks in Nigeria, Chad, and Cameroon, with the majority involving women or young girls. The Pentagon is planning to send 300 US troops to Cameroon to help stop Boko Haram. Some are saying Boko Haram’s use of these suicide bombers is a sign of weakness or desperation at a loss of able fighters, or that they are employing this tactic because the Nigerian army is succeeding in their fight. While Boko Haram may not have made much gains in recent months, they have not lost their hold on northeast Nigeria. Using suicide bombers – especially women and girls – is just a change in tactics. In short, Boko Haram has found a new, horrific way to extend their terror campaign. By using young women and girls, soft targets become more easily accessible. Women and girls are not out of place in markets, where many of these attacks have taken place. Typically, fighters – even suicide bombers – are male. Women and girls don’t attract the same sort of attention as a strange male would. Also, using women and girls in traditionally Islamic societies allows for the concealment of explosives under their clothes, and allows them to enter an area without being searched, as is forbidden in Islam.

By using suicide bombers, Boko Haram splits focus between traditional fighting with the Nigerian army and hitting soft target attacks. Additionally, by using the women and girls, they have expanded their fighting force. Despite claims to the contrary, Boko Haram appears to have gained an advantage with their shift in tactic. With claims that Boko Haram has kidnapped well over 40,000, it appears that that advantage will last for the foreseeable future.

Advertisements

Propaganda of the Deed, or Russia in Syria

Propaganda of the deed has its origins in the anarchist/revolutionary movements of the 1800s. The actors then tried to spread their message through actions, feeling that would have a bigger impact than traditional propaganda. Those early anarchists and revolutionaries used violence to attract more attention and gain a bigger audience than any speeches or pamphlets had done.

Today, propaganda of the deed is used regularly to describe the terrorist playbook. Spectacular attacks, such as September 11 by al Qaeda and the destruction of Palmyra by Islamic State (IS), capture the attention of the world. The names become recognizable, and put the messages on a world stage.

But propaganda of the deed isn’t just for terrorists. We are witnessing it right now in the geopolitical power play between Russia and the West. Several weeks ago, Russia began moving military equipment into Syria, a move welcomed by President Bashar al Assad. Russia and Syria watchers took notice, awaiting the reaction from the Western nations – especially the US. As early as 2012, the US government began backing the Syrian rebels*, whose intent was to overthrow the Assad regime. By 2014, Islamic State had established a foothold in Syria. Later that same year, the US began conducting airstrikes against IS. Despite White House reports to the contrary, the strikes have not been overly effective in stopping IS.

Enter Russia.

Russia, a major ally of Syria, moved in with the promise to help Assad defeat IS. Almost immediately, Russian planes began bombing not only IS targets, but Syrian rebel positions as well. To those who know Russia, their true intent is no secret.

In Russia, image is everything. The intensity of their bombing campaign is designed to show the world how effective Russia is compared to the West (read: US) in defeating an enemy in the Middle East. In recent years, the gains made by the US in the region seem to have been lost. Russia, looking to improve their image tarnished by their annexation of Crimea, wasted no time stepping in. During his speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September, Vladimir Putin all but called out the US for acting superior to the world, and for creating the power vacuum that now exists in the Middle East. He also announced a strategy to stabilize the region, in this case providing military and technical assistance to Assad.

Putin’s speech was a message to the world that Russia is still a superpower. Russia’s actions in Syria deliver a bigger message that the West is ineffective when dealing with terrorists and unrest in the Middle East. Russia is asserting its (perceived) dominance while increasing its presence in the Middle East, traditionally dominated by the US. Putin is also showing the world that he is a real leader, that President Barack Obama and other Western leaders are weak. In the wake of US failures to train and aid the Syrian opposition, Putin is stepping in with guns blazing.

The image of a strong, manly Russia has long been feed to the masses, from the New Soviet Man to Vladimir Putin’s shirtless photo ops. Putin openly challenging the West in Syria is more effective propaganda than any UNSC speech. Any attempt to show Russia as a great power, all the while showing up the US, is a great victory for Putin. The outcome of Russia’s actions in Syria remains to be seen. In the meantime, those actions are speaking volumes

 

*On 9 October, the Pentagon announced it was ending its program of training Syrian rebels, focusing instead on supplying weapons.