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.