Islamic State West Africa launches coordinated assaults in northeast Nigeria

Map of Islamic State West Africa suicide bombings involving women. Map created by Caleb Weiss for The Long War Journal.

The Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWA), formerly known as Boko Haram, has launched a coordinated assault in northeastern Nigeria just days after Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari declared the fight against the jihadist group “technically” over. More than 50 people have reportedly been killed in two days of fighting.

On Sunday, ISWA first launched an assault on Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, by setting in motion at least two female suicide bombers. The two detonated as part of a wider assault, killing at least 15 people. As fighting raged on to a second day in the city, another woman detonating herself near a mosque, killing 20. To the north of Maiduguri, the small village of Dawari was also attacked in the assault. However, Nigerian security officials have said their forces intervened and were able to kill 10 other would-be suicide bombers.

Further south in Adamawa State, two other female suicide bombers blew themselves up in a crowded market in the town of Madagali. According to the BBC, at least 30 people have been killed in those explosions. While these assaults were occurring, ISWA also launched suicide bombers in neighboring Cameroon. In the Far North Region of the country, two women detonated in the town of Bodo. However, only one person was injured in the explosions.

The new assaults come just a few days after ISWA stormed a village in the northeastern Borno State, killing 14 and razing the town. They also come just a week after Muhammadu Buhari, the President of Nigeria, declared the war against ISWA “technically won.” Speaking to the BBC, Buhari said “articulated conventional attacks on centers of communication and populations … they [ISWA] are no longer capable of doing that effectively.” He then stated that the war is won “because people are going back into their neighborhoods.” He then commented that the jihadist group is no longer an “organized fighting force.”

Despite a coordinated military offensive by Nigeria, Chad, and Cameroon which has targeted ISWA strongholds in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, the jihadist group has maintained the ability to launch coordinated attacks and assaults throughout the region. Many of these include the use of women and/or girls as suicide bombers.

According to data compiled by The Long War Journal, ISWA has utilized at least 89 women and girls as suicide bombers in Nigeria, Cameroon, and in Chad since June 2014.

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. Many of the women and girls used in these bombings are likely forced into committing the attacks.

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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