Young female suicide bombers strike in northeast Nigeria

A spate of suicide bombings in recent days in northeast Nigeria has left dozens of people dead and many others wounded in both Maiduguri and Madagali. At least three of the suicide bombers are reported to have been females. No one has claimed the attacks, but the Islamic State West Africa (ISWA, formerly known as Boko Haram) has a long history of using women and children as bombers. It is unclear if the ISWA splinter led by its former leader Abu Bakr Shekau is also utilizing female suicide bombers, although it is a strong possibility.

On Friday, two teenage girls detonated their explosive devices in a market in the city of Madagali in Nigeria’s Adamawa State. The blasts killed at least 31 people, according to CNN. However, Al Jazeera has put the total number of dead much higher at 45 and over 30 people wounded. The last suicide assault involving women to occur in Madagali was on Dec 28 of last year in a coordinated attack on the city. Two female suicide bombers blew themselves up in a crowded market in Madagali during the operation. According to the BBC, at least 30 people were killed in those explosions. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Islamic State West Africa launches coordinated assaults in northeast Nigeria.]

Today, two girls blew themselves up in a crowded market alongside a male suicide bomber in Maiduguri. The Daily Press, a Nigerian news outlet, reported that “a male and female suicide bomber detonated themselves minutes apart, spokesman Sani Datti of the National Emergency Management Agency said.” However, the AP has confirmed that the two suicide bombers were young girls, aged 7 and 8. Maiduguri has long been the target of ISWA’s suicide bombing campaigns.

The last suicide assault in the city was October 29 when a girl detonated herself near a camp for internally displaced persons near the city. A second girl would later detonate close to a nearby gas station. The two blasts left at least nine people dead and two dozen wounded.

Elsewhere, two young girls targeted the northern Cameroonian city of Mora late last month. One bomber detonated herself and wounded four people, while the second was killed before she could explode herself.

According to data compiled by FDD’s The Long War Journal, at least 123 female suicide bombers have been utilized by the Islamic State West Africa, or Boko Haram, since June 2014. The rate at which these attacks occur has drastically dropped since their height in 2015, but ISWA still retains the ability to utilize women and young girls as suicide bombers. Many of the women and girls used in these bombings are likely forced into committing the assaults, however, some could be the widows or daughters of killed fighters.

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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