The Islamic State West Africa continues to utilize women as suicide bombers



Fighters from the Islamic State West Africa Province, formerly known as Boko Haram

Boko Haram, which now calls itself the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWA), continues to utilize women as suicide bombers in northeastern Nigeria and in neighboring Cameroon. The jihadist group killed three people today in a suicide attack in the town of Mora in northern Cameroon.

According to Reuters, a police officer and two civilians were killed after two female suicide bombers detonated themselves in a car close to the town’s stadium. Early reports have indicated that the police officer stopped the car for a routine check before being killed in the blast. The death toll is expected to rise as authorities begin searching the scene and gather more information. The attack also occurred just hours after coordinated improvised explosive device attacks in the Nigerian city of Maiduguri killed over 50.

The attack in Cameroon is just the latest to have been perpetrated by ISWA this year. Earlier this month, the jihadist group used two teenage girls to attack a local market and a nearby army camp in Kerewa killing 30. In July, a 12-year old girl killed 20 people when she detonated in a crowded bar in Maroua, the capital of Cameroon’s Far North Region. A week before that attack, two teenage girls blew themselves up in a market in Maroua, killing at least 20. A few days before, two other teenage girls detonated in the border town of Fotokol, killing 10 civilians and a Chadian soldier. In response to these attacks, the regional government banned women from wearing burkas, which the ISWA often uses to mask its suicide bombers.

The tactic of using women as suicide bombers has been a common occurrence 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 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 ISWA has deployed at least 47 female suicide bombers in Nigeria and Cameroon since June 2014, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal. 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 ages of the women range from just 12 years old to middle-aged.

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.

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 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. Around 800 people are suspected to have been killed since Nigerian President Muhammad Buhari came into power in May.

List of Islamic State West Africa/Boko Haram suicide attacks utilizing women since the beginning of June 2014:

Sept 20, 2015A police officer and two civilians were killed when two female suicide bombers detonated themselves in Mora, Cameroon.

Sept 3, 2015 – Two female suicide bombers killed 30 and wounded over 100 in an attack on a local market in Kerawa, Cameroon, and close to a nearby army camp.

Aug 25, 2015A 14 year old girl suicide bomber killed 5 in an attack on a bus station in Damaturu.

July 25, 2015 – A 40 year old woman, described as “mentally unstable,” detonated herself in a crowded market in Damaturu, Nigeria, killing 14.

July 25, 2015 – A 12 year old girl killed 20 people in a suicide bombing on a popular bar in Cameroon.

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 female suicide bomber detonated her explosives after she was stopped at a roadblock in Zaria.

July 5, 2015 – A woman suicide bomber killed five people at a Christian church in Potiskum, Nigeria.

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 – 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.

June 23, 2015 – A teenage girl killed 20 people at a bus station in Maiduguri after detonating herself.

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 female suicide bomber killed 19 in an attack in Borno.

Dec 10, 2014 – Two female suicide bombers kill four in Kano.

Dec 1, 2014 – Two women suicide bombers kill five in Maiduguri.

Nov 26, 2014 – Two women suicide bombers 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.

Update: Article has been updated to include a missed attack in Cameroon earlier this month and an attack in Nigeria earlier this year. 

Caleb Weiss is an editor of FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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1 Comment

  • mike merlo says:

    this riddle, puzzle, etc., however one wishes to frame it of these suicide bombers still continues to bedevil even after decades of its employment. The picture reminds me of the 80’s & ‘child’ armies that roamed about West Africa & other sub Sahara locales of Africa


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