children as suicide bombers
The majority of suicide bombers used by terror group Boko Haram to kill innocent victims are women and children, a US study reveals.
Researchers at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point and Yale University analyzed the 434 suicide bombings carried out by Nigeria based militants Boko Haram since 2011, and found that at least 244 of the 338 attacks in which the bomber’s gender could be identified were carried out by women.
Boko Haram’s use of women as bombers increased following the abduction of 276 female students aged between 16 and 18 from their school dormitories in April 2014. The Chibok Girls’ abduction prompted the global “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign.
“Almost immediately after the Chibok kidnappings . Boko Haram’s use of women suicide bombers skyrocketed,” says Jason Warner, assistant professor at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, the United States’ elite military academy.
The report suggests “that Boko Haram started using women suicide bombers after it realized the potency that gender and youth offer in raising its global profile after the Chibok kidnappings,” he says.
Youngest bomber aged just 7
As well as regularly employing women to carry deadly explosives, Boko Haram is also “at the forefront of normalizing the use of children as suicide bombers,” according to the report.
“Boko Haram has shattered demographic stereotypes as to what a suicide bomber looks like,” says Warner. “It is the first terrorist group in history to use more women suicide bombers than men, and is at the vanguard of using children as suicide bombers.”
Of the 134 suicide bombers whose age could be determined, 60% were teenagers or children. The youngest suicide bomber identified to date was just 7 years old.
Boko Haram has used four times as many young girls as it has young boys, according to the study.
They can hide explosives under their billowing clothing, or inside handbags, and in some cases have even strapped explosives on their backs with infant children.
There are also reports of men dressing as women to slip through security more easily.
The researchers also believe that women and children are more susceptible to Boko Haram’s recruitment efforts than their male counterparts, through violence, brainwashing or false promises.
Women and female children, in particular, are seen as expendable by the male terrorist leadership their vulnerability a destructive, deadly curse.
Researchers’ fieldwork for the study was limited because northeastern Nigeria where Boko Haram is based is notoriously dangerous for locals and foreigners.
“Media reports often did not report full details of the bombings,” says Warner. “Even getting approximate ages of bombers proved to be very difficult . and media accounts often did not even report the gender of the bombers.”
“In instances where age or gender was not reported, it might be reasonable to expect that the bomber was an adult man, and thus, age and gender were not newsworthy enough to report at all,” he says.
Matfess spent much of her time in the field conducting face to face interviews with former Boko Haram insurgents, victims and family members affected by Boko Haram’s reign of terror.
She said that as well as true suicide bombers, who are willing to die for a cause, Boko Haram also uses improvised explosives carried by unwilling victims and others coerced verbally, physically, materially or by violence. These are known as person borne IEDs, or PBIEDs.