Female suicide bombers continue to strike in West Africa

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Islamic State West Africa leader Abubakar Shekau (center)

The Islamic State’s West Africa Province, formerly known as Boko Haram, continues to utilize women as suicide bombers in its rampage through Nigeria and in neighboring countries. At least 75 women and young girls have carried out suicide attacks on behalf of the terrorist organization in northwest Nigeria, northern Cameroon, and southwestern Chad since the beginning of June 2014, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal.

The latest suicide bombing occurred on Wednesday in Cameroon’s Far North Region. Three women suicide bombers attacked targets in the town of Waza. Two of the bombers were detonated their explosives, killing six. The third would-be bomber was killed before she could carry out her attack. Two other women suicide bombers also struck in Cameroon’s Far North Region on Nov. 28. That coordinated attack killed five people.

Last month in Maiduguri, women suicide bombers carried out two separate suicide attacks in the capital of Nigeria’s northeast Borno State. On Nov. 23, a teenage girl detonated in a crowded vegetable market, killing 11 people. A day earlier, another women detonated her explosives near a checkpoint where people fleeing violence caused by the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWA) were conveniently filtering into the city, killing eight. In October, three teenage girls killed 39 people during Friday prayers in central Maiduguri.

In Chad, two women blew themselves up near the Lake Chad area killing two and wounding 14 on Nov. 8. On Oct. 10, two women and two young children detonated at a market and a refugee camp, killing 38 in Baga Sola. An adult male suicide bomber was also used in the coordinated assault on the Lake Chad town.

The ISWA’s deployment of women and girls as suicide bombers is a common tactic in Nigeria over the past two 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.

The use of women make it easier for jihadist groups to carry out suicide attacks, as explosives are often easier to hide, and men are less likely to search women due to cultural sensitivities. The ages of the bombers have ranged from just nine-years-old to middle-aged.

Jihadist groups across the world have used women and girls as suicide bombers for well over a decade. Some of the most infamous female suicide bombers have come from Russia’s Republic of Chechnya. Know as the
“Black Widows,” these women are often the wives of jihadists killed in battle. The Black Widows have carried out numerous coordinated suicide attacks, including one in March 2010 at metro stations in Moscow which killed more than 35 people and wounded at least 65 more.

Al Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor to the Islamic State, often recruited and trained numerous women to execute suicide attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces during the last decade. In one coordinated attack in July 2008, at least 70 people were killed and hundreds more were wounded in separate bombings in Baghdad and Kirkuk.

The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, one of many Taliban factions operating in there, has claimed responsibility for a number of suicide attacks carried out by women. Omar Khalid al Khorasani, a senior Taliban leader, reportedly admitted 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.

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

Dec 2, 2015 – Two women attacked the town of Waza in northern Cameroon, killing six people.

Nov 28, 2015 – Two women detonated in the town of Dabanga in northern Cameroon, killing five people.

Nov 23, 2015 – A teenage girl killed 11 people in an attack in a vegetable market in Maiduguri.

Nov 22, 2015 – One women detonated near a checkpoint in Maiduguri for people fleeing violence caused by ISWA, killing eight people.

Nov 21, 2015 – Three women and one man detonated in a village near Fotokol, Cameroon, killing four civilians.

Nov 18, 2015 – Two teenage girls killed 15 people in an attack on a mobile phone market in Kano, Nigeria.

Nov 9, 2015 – Two women detonated on a Cameroonian military truck carrying refugees near Fotokol, Cameroon, killing three people.

Nov. 8, 2015 – Two women detonated in the Lake Chad area of southwest Chad, killing two people and wounding 14.

Oct 24, 2015 – One female suicide bomber detonated in the Dala Yazaram neighborhood of Maiduguri, killing three people.

Oct 16, 2015 – Three teenage girls killed 39 people in an attack on Friday prayers in Maiduguri, Nigeria.

Oct 10, 2015– Two women and two young children killed 38 people in coordinated attacks on a market and refugee camp in Baga Sola, Chad.

Oct 2, 2015 – Five female suicide bombers killed nine people in coordinated attacks on a mosque and a vigilante leader in Maiduguri.

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 people 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 five in an attack on a bus station in Damaturu.

July 25, 2015 – A 40 year old woman, described as “mentally unstable,” detonated 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.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal. Caleb Weiss is an intern at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to The Long War Journal.

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4 Comments

  • Dennis says:

    Didn’t zawahiri recently deny use of children? I suppose whatever your hired henchmen do on their off hours doesn’t apply to company policy. This arab/islamic/whoever else wants to, coalition of murderers are obviously not so regimented as to obey orders given by anyone outside their sphere of influence. I believe there actually is an end point to this now. This battlefield is just the staging ground for the bigger one to come. Almost like a poker game when everyone announces their intentions to play. At the time the Arch Duke was assassinated, it also took awhile for all the players to decide where they stood. Sit back and watch the theatrics!

  • Tom says:

    How many women from Nigeria and other nations have sought refugee status in the US? Could we be setting ourselves up for similar attacks?

  • drexel says:

    What in the world is that tan military vehicle, it looks similar to a JLTV variant and has a GPK w/transparent armor on it?

  • Dh says:

    Now I’m no expert on inter-jihadi relationships but I reckon this Shekau clown is using the I.S brand if you like to gain some credibility. Ok his band of fools have used lots of women in their attacks but are they willing ? Or just under extreme duress ? My guess is they have no choice I.e do or die one way or the other!!!!!

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