Female suicide bombers, many of them young girls, in West Africa in 2017 has significantly risen compared to 2016 according to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) report
UNICEF documented 27 young girls used in suicide attacks already in 2017, 30 in 2016, 56 in 2015, and just four in 2014. This largely confirms the trends compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal.
According to Long War Journal data, there were at least 80 female suicide bombers used in 2015. In 2014, there only 15 females, most of which were adult women.
Since June 2014, at least 151 women and girls have been used in subsequent attacks the report says. The overwhelming majority of these assaults have occurred in Nigeria, while at least 14 has occurred in Cameroon, three in Chad, and one in Niger.
This year Boko Haram militants have used at least 27 children to carry out suicide bombing attacks in the first three months in Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon, the reports says.
This marks a major increase — 30 children were used in bombings for all of 2016 in those four countries, where Boko Haram is active.
The horrifying pattern is a sign of shifting strategy for Boko Haram, now waging its eighth year of conflict. “The insurgency has changed its tactics over the course of the conflict, from holding towns and territory to a guerrilla-style insurgency that uses hit and run attacks and improvised explosive devices,” UNICEF says.
That shift is clear in the numbers: Four were used in suicide attacks in 2014, 56 in 2015, and 30 in 2016.
It’s enabled by the militants’ systemic kidnapping of thousands of children, most famously the more than 270 schoolgirls taken from the town of Chibok, Nigeria, three years ago. Girls in particular are subjected to forced marriage and repeated rape.
“This is the worst possible use of children in conflict,” UNICEF’s regional director for West and Central Africa, Marie-Pierre Poirier, said in a statement. “These children are victims, not perpetrators, forcing or deceiving them into committing such horrific acts is reprehensible.”
It is not clear that all of the children who have carried out attacks are cognizant of what they were doing, the report states.
There are also major concerns about how the uptick in attacks impacts the way other children who return after being abducted by Boko Haram are viewed by their communities, making reintegration more difficult. “Girls, boys and even infants have been viewed with increasing fear at markets and checkpoints, where they are thought to carry explosives,” UNICEF says.
The organization published testimony from “Amina” from Chad, who was 16 when she got married, only to find out later that her new husband was a Boko Haram militant. Here’s more:
“After being manipulated and drugged, she was forced into an attempted suicide attack. Four people including Amina were on a canoe riding towards a weekly crowded market. The four girls carried bombs that were strapped to their bodies. When a Vigilante Committee spotted them on the canoe, two of them activated their explosive belt. Amina didn’t activate her device but she was injured in the explosion. She lost both her legs.
However Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari vowed in Sambisa Forest during the 2017 Nigerian Army Small Arms Championship (NASAC), that never again will terrorists take over and occupy any part of Nigeria’s territory.
Represented by the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, Buhari noted that his government is resolved to stamp out all activities and operations of the Boko Haram insurgents from Nigeria.
This year alone Al Qaeda’s group has been linked to over 100 attacks in West Africa. Most of the attacks so far have occurred in Mali, majorly in the northern part of the country.