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African Female Suicide Bombers: What Explains this Phenomenon?

03.11.2018
It is now common place in Africa to hear of girls or women who have blown themselves up as an act of terrorism. The phenomenon used to be rampant mostly amongst men and heard of in other regions of the world like the Middle East and Asia. But today the rather unfortunate act of suicide bombing is now being carried out by very young girls. What then explains this phenomenon?

Generally the act of suicide bombing has been attributed to the Arab world and carried out most of the time by Muslim faithfuls, mostly men. However, it is yet to be proven true, given that even non-Arabs and non-Muslims have indulged themselves in the phenomenon. In recent times, women and girls around the world have given up their lives in the form of suicide bombers for either one cause or the other. Some have blown up themselves for religious purposes, others for national causes, while some have done it to stand their grounds on issues of rights of occupation as well as tactics in the war front. Going by some examples of female suicide bombers in the past, one can cite the Moscow theater hostage crisis that involved the seizure of a crowded Dubrovka Theater by 40 to 50 armed Chechens on 23 October 2002 that involved 850 hostages and ended with the death of at least 170 people. Amongst this 40-50 armed Chechens, were nineteen women, veiled, dressed in black and equipped with explosive belts who all lost their lives in the process. They were demanding the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya and an end to the Second Chechen War. This is just one of the incidents of female suicide bombers around the world in the 21st Century.

Boko Haram and the Introduction of Female Suicide Bombers

The phenomenon of female suicide bombers otherwise referred to as kamikazes used to be a very rare occurrence in Africa. But the birth and rise of jihadist militant organisations like Boko Haram has seen a rise in female suicide bombers in the continent. Severally questions have arisen as to why a young girl will wear explosives and place herself in a popular area and blow it up, killing many people. The activities of the Boko Haram Islamist terrorist group can somehow answer some of such questions. The jihadist group gained international fame in 2014, when it kidnapped some 276 schoolgirls from a boarding school in Chibok, Nigeria. Before 2014, Boko Haram used only male suicide bombers. But two months after the Chibok kidnappings, the group dispatched its first female suicide bomber, which proved to be the start of a terrible trend.

A US study in 2017 revealed that the majority of suicide bombers used by Boko Haram to kill innocent victims were women and children. According to researchers at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point and Yale University, who analysed 434 suicide bombings carried out by the Nigeria-based militants since 2011, at least 244 of the 338 attacks in which the bomber’s gender could be identified were carried out by women. The study further revealed that of the 134 suicide bombers whose age could be determined, 60% were teenagers or children, with the youngest being just 7 years old. The study went further to reveal that Boko Haram has used four times as many young girls as it has young boys. Going by statistics from the US Study, why then are young girls more of targets for suicide bombings by Boko Haram? Some reasons have sparked up like; women are generally viewed with less suspicion than men are, and the Nigerian cultural customs prohibit a man from touching a woman in the way required to search for explosives. Also the way these young girls and women dress can easily mask an explosive device. Other findings from the US study indicate that female bombers usually attack different types of targets than men do. These female bombers often aim at secular civilian areas, such as markets and camps for internally displaced people.

It is not only in Nigeria that there has been the use of female suicide bombers for terrorist acts. Sometime in June this year, there were reports of three female suicide bombers who killed at least six people and wounded several others in an attack on a mosque in Niger’s southeast. Just on Monday, October 26, 2018 a 30-year-old female suicide bomber wounded nine people, mostly police officers, on a busy avenue in Tunisia’s capital, Tunis. One can therefore conclude that there is a rise in the use of female suicide bombers due to the fact that they are easy to manipulate and can hardly be suspected.

Article from AFRIC editorial.

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