The Islamic State’s West Africa province (ISWA), formerly known as Boko Haram, killed more than 20 people in a double suicide attack in northern Cameroon that was executed by two teenage girls. The jihadist group has used women and girls of various ages to carry out suicide attacks in Nigeria and Cameroon over the past year.
Both ISWA suicide bombers, who attacked a market and an adjoining neighborhood in Maroua, the capital of the Far Northern Region, were under the age of 15, according to Al Jazeera. Police officials estimated that 20 people were killed and at least 22 were wounded, but authorities also warned that the death toll may rise as recovery operations continue.
Today’s attack is the second in less than two weeks in Cameroon involving female suicide bombers. On July 12, two women detonated explosives in the town of Fotokol in the Far Northern Region, killing 13 people. The regional government banned women from wearing burkas, which ISWA often uses to mask its suicide bombers. The jihadist group has launched numerous military attacks in Cameroon’s Far Northern Region over the past several years.
The ISWA has also deployed female suicide bombers in neighboring Nigeria over the past month. On June 24, a pair of women who were thought to be in their twenties killed 30 people in separate attacks at a market and a prayer area in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state. Three days earlier, another woman detonated a device at a bus station in Maiduguri, killing at least 20 people. The bomber is said to have lured potential customers to her before detonating her explosives.
ISWA has launched numerous suicide assaults using similar tactics in Nigeria over the past two years. In one of the deadliest attacks, on Nov. 27, 2014, two women killed 78 people and wounded scores more at a market in Maiduguri. The group’s first known instance of using a female suicide bomber was on June 8, 2014 when a middle-aged woman on a motorcycle detonated near a Nigerian military barracks in Gombe, killing one policeman.
The ISWA has deployed at least 33 female suicide bombers in Nigeria and Cameroon since June 2014, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal.
The consistent tactic indicates that the jihadist group is running camps to indoctrinate and train its recruits. The ISWA is known to have kidnapped hundreds of young girls and women in order to convert them to Islam, marry them off to fighters, and train them to conduct attacks.
The group is not the first terrorist organization to use women to carry out suicide attacks. Jihadists in Russia’s North Caucasus are famous for deploying “Black Widows,” who are the wives of fighters killed while battling Russian troops. Al Qaeda in Iraq (the predecessor to the Islamic State), the Afghan Taliban, and the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan have all deployed female jihadists to attack their enemies. The use of women can make it easier for jihadist groups to conduct suicide attacks as explosives may be easier to hide, and men are less likely to search women due to cultural sensitivities.
The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, one of many Taliban factions operating in Pakistan, has claimed a number of similar suicide attacks. Omar Khalid al Khorasani, a senior Taliban leader, said the use of women as suicide bombers “is part of our strategy.” Qari Zia Rahman, the dual-hatted Taliban and al Qaeda commander who operates on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border, is known to have run training camps for women and children in remote areas of northwestern Pakistan and northeastern Afghanistan. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda, Taliban create female suicide cells in Pakistan and Afghanistan.]
Despite a coordinated military offensive by Nigeria, Chad, and Cameroon that has targeted ISWA strongholds in the Lake Chad region, the jihadist group has maintained its attack tempo. ISWA has launched two suicide attacks in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, over the past two months, and has conducted multiple military assaults in Niger, Cameroon, and Nigeria. In one particularly gruesome attack, ISWA gunmen assaulted two mosques in the town of Kukawa in Borno as worshippers were praying. At least 97 people, many of them children, are reported to have been killed.
List of Islamic State West Africa/Boko Haram suicide attacks since the beginning of June 2014
July 22, 2015 – Two girls killed at least 20 people in separate suicide bombings in Maroua, the capital of Cameroon’s Far Northern Region.
July 17, 2015 – A 10 year old girl and an elderly woman killed 50 people in separate suicide attacks in Damaturu, Nigeria.
July 16, 2015 – A young woman suicide bomber killed at least nine people as they gathered to mark the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr in Damaturu.
July 12, 2015 – Two women suicide bombers killed 10 civilians and a Chadian soldier in an attack in the Cameroon border town of Fotokol.
July 7, 2015 – A woman killed at least 20 people after detonating her vest in a crowd of Nigerian government workers in Zaria.
July 7, 2015 – A woman suicide bomber detonated her explosives after she was stopped at a roadblock in Zaria.
July 3, 2015 – A teenage woman suicide bomber killed 12 worshippers when she blew herself up in a mosque in Malari in northeastern Nigeria
July 3, 2015 – A woman suicide bomber killed five people at a Christian church in Potiskum, Nigeria.
July 1, 2015 – The Nigerian military said that six women suicide bombers killed scores of civilians and one soldiers in separate attacks in the village of Zabamari Muna near Maiduguri.
June 24, 2015 – A girl, who is thought to have been 12 years old, killed 10 people after detonating her explosive vest at a market in Yobe state, Nigeria.
May 16, 2015 – A woman killed 10 people in a suicide attack in Damaturu, Nigeria.
March 12, 2015 – A woman killed at least 34 people after detonating an explosive device at a market in Maiduguri.
Feb 22, 2015 – A young girl killed five people and wounded dozens more in a bombing at a security checkpoint outside a market in Potiskum.
Feb 15, 2015 – A woman killed at least seven people in a bombing at a crowded bus station in Damaturu.
Feb 12, 2015 – A woman killed seven people in a suicide attack at a crowded market in Nigeria’s Borno state.
Jan 10, 2015 – A woman suicide bomber killed 19 in an attack in Borno.
Nov 26, 2014 – Two women suicide bomber killed 45 people at a crowded market in Maiduguri.
Nov 16, 2014 – A woman suicide bomber killed at least 12 in an attack at a cellphone market in Azare, Nigeria.
Nov 12, 2014 – A woman suicide bomber detonated her vest at a teacher training college in Kontagora in Nigeria’s central Niger State.
July 31, 2014 – A woman killed three people after detonating her explosives at a college in Kano, Nigeria.
July 30, 2014 – A teenage girl killed six people after blowing herself up among a crowd of students at a college campus in Kano.
July 28, 2014 – A young woman killed three people after detonating her bomb at a kerosene queue in Kano.
July 28, 2014 – A teenage girl injured six people after detonating a bomb at a shopping centre in Kano.
July 27, 2014 – A teenager with an explosive device concealed under her veil detonated her bomb up at a university campus in Kano, injuring five police officers.
June 25, 2014 – A woman detonated her bomb after parking her car next to a gasoline tanker at a fuel depot in Lagos, Nigeria.
June 8, 2014 – A middle-aged woman killed a policeman in a suicide attack at a military barracks in Gombe, Nigeria.