Abubakr Shekau (center) as seen in an archival Boko Haram video
Earlier today, at least 50 people were killed by a suicide bomber in the northeastern Nigerian town of Mubi in Adamawa state. The bombing is one of the deadliest to have hit northern Nigeria this year.
Nigerian officials stated a teenage boy entered a local mosque in Mubi during morning prayers. The boy blended into the congregation before detonating his explosives among the crowd. The official death toll stood at around 50 people, however, the number is expected to rise. Mubi was once under the control of Boko Haram in 2014, but was retaken by Nigerian forces in a counteroffensive shortly thereafter. Adamawa has also been the location of several suicide bombings and attacks undertaken by the group since then.
For instance, last December, at least 45 people were killed by two teenage girls at a market in Madagali. A year prior, a major coordinated assault hit Madagali, which involved two other female suicide bombers, and killed over 30.
No group has claimed responsibility for today’s attack, but the modus operandi conforms with that of Abubakr Shekau’s faction of the Nigerian insurgency. Boko Haram, which has effectively split into two main factions, has a long history of using men, women and children in suicide attacks in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger – often on civilian targets. While unified under the leadership of Abubakr Shekau and the name Islamic State West Africa (ISWA), the group continued to use many women and girls in its attacks.
After Shekau was removed from ISWA’s leadership and created a splinter faction, it is thought that this faction is behind most assaults using females. However, ISWA under the leadership of Abu Musab al Barnawi may also use the tactic. Since the first reported female suicide bombing in June 2014, at least 267 girls and women have been used as suicide bombers in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger according to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal. While today’s bombing was undertaken by a male, 2017 has been a cataclysmic year for female suicide bombers in West Africa. Of the 267 since 2014, 128 of those have occurred this year.
While ISWA or Shekau’s faction no longer controls the territory it once did as a unified force, both factions continue to remain a threat to both Nigerian security forces and the civilian populations in northern Nigeria. Moreover, both also remain a threat to regional security as security forces and civilians have been targeted in several neighboring countries.
Caleb Weiss is an intern at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to The Long War Journal.