The Islamic State West Africa (ISWA), formerly known as Boko Haram, killed more than 20 people in a double suicide attack today at a mosque in northern Nigeria. Both suicide bombers were women. ISWA has now used women in 105 suicide attacks in Nigeria and neighboring countries since June 2014, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal.
Today’s suicide bombings took place in the village of Ummarari near the city of Maiduguri in northern Nigeria, where ISWA’s insurgency has raged for more than a half a decade. According to the Nigerian Army, the first female suicide bomber entered a mosque and detonated her explosives. The second suicide bomber triggered her bomb about 50 meters outside of the mosque just minutes after the first explosion, Vanguard reported.
The second suicide attack likely was targeting first responders rendering aid to those wounded in the initial blast. This is a tactic frequently used by jihadist groups, including the Islamic State and al Qaeda, throughout the world. Officials said that 22 people were killed and 18 more were wounded.
ISWA suicide bombers have targeted a wide range of civilian targets that includes mosques, schools, refugee camps, markets, and government buildings, as well as military installations and security checkpoints.
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 organized attacks and assaults throughout the region. Many of these include the use of women and/or girls as suicide bombers.
The majority of the suicide attacks involving women have occurred in Nigeria. At least 11 have occurred in neighboring Cameroon, though, and three or more took place in southern Chad in the Lake Chad region.
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, however, some could be the widows or daughters of killed fighters. In Russia’s southern Caucasus region, several widows of killed fighters, dubbed “Black Widows,” have conducted various suicide bombings in the region. Despite efforts by regional countries to make it tougher for ISWA to use females, by banning the niqab (face veil), the jihadist group will likely continue to exploit females in its attacks in West Africa.