The rate at which female suicide bombers, many of them young girls, have been used in West Africa in 2017 has significantly risen compared to 2016.
In all of 2016, at least 29 females detonated suicide bombs according to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal. At least 27 females have already been utilized by the jihadist groups in Nigeria and Cameroon in the first three and a half months of 2017 alone. If jihadists groups continue to brainwash and exploit young women into suicide attacks at this rate in the rest of 2017, the total number may nearly quadruple last year’s figure.
A report released by UNICEF earlier this week also documents this increase.
UNICEF documented 27 young girls used in suicide attacks already in 2017, 30 in 2016, 56 in 2015, and just four in 2014. This largely confirms the trends compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal. According to Long War Journal data, there were at least 80 female suicide bombers used in 2015. In 2014, there only 15 females, most of which were adult women.
The majority of these bombings continue to occur in Nigeria’s northwestern provinces of Borno and Adamawa. So far in 2017, Borno’s capital of Maiduguri has been hit with at least eight separate suicide attacks involving 18 young girls. Two instances have occurred in Cameroon’s Far North Region involved six girls, however, four detonated themselves after being pursued by Cameroonian self-defense forces.
In the past, both Chad and Niger have also been targeted in these attacks.
Since June 2014, at least 151 women and girls have been used in subsequent attacks. The overwhelming majority of these assaults have occurred in Nigeria, while at least 14 has occurred in Cameroon, three in Chad, and one in Niger.
Most female suicide bombings usually go unclaimed, however, the Islamic State West Africa (ISWA, formerly known as Boko Haram) has a long history of using women and children as bombers. A splinter faction of ISWA, led by Abubakr Shekau, is also thought to utilize women and young girls in attacks.
Jihadist deployment of women and girls as suicide bombers has been a common tactic in Nigeria for almost three years. 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. In one of the deadliest attacks, on Nov. 27, 2014, two women killed 78 people and wounded scores more at a market in Maiduguri.
Many of the women and girls used in these bombings are likely forced into committing the assaults after being kidnapped by the jihadists. Other women may be widows of killed fighters, like Russia’s “Black Widows.”
The ages of the bombers have ranged from just seven-years-old to middle-aged. 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.
Some countries, such as Cameroon, Niger, and Chad, have banned certain Islamic dress to try to combat this. However, the jihadists continue to exploit females in their attacks in West Africa. Based on the numbers seen so far in 2017, this tactic is on the rise in a significant way.