Very hard to detect because of the tender human sentiments harboured towards womanhood, female suicide bombers, some of them teenagers, have suddenly become the newest weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Boko Haram terrorists. In the latest tactical offensive, hijab-wearing women, laced with improvised explosive belts, are increasingly wasting lives in the North. The deadly tactic that sends a hail of shrapnel piercing through the flesh and breaking the bones of unsuspecting bystanders demands urgent attention from the government and security forces.
According to the chilling reports, the agents of destruction killed more than 10 people in Kano in four days late in July. A 16-year-old female extremist blew herself up in a failed attempt to kill people in front of the Northwest University in Kano on July 27. It was another gory story a day later when two female bombers succeeded in their mission in the Kano State capital. Last Wednesday, one of the ladies of death, suspected to be about 15 years old, wasted six lives as fresh graduates of the Kano State Polytechnic queued to check their postings for the National Youth Corps Service scheme. The first hijab-clad lady assassinated three people and herself with her belt device at an NNPC petrol station. She injured eight others. Hours later, another female attacker targeted the city’s Trade Fair Complex, wounding six bystanders, according to the police. In all, there were four bomb attacks by the female militants in the space of four days. In June, a female suicide bomber killed a soldier in front of the 301 Battalion of the Nigerian Army, Gombe, capital of Gombe State.
More ominous is the arrest of Hadiza Musa, a 10-year-old girl, who was discovered to be wearing an explosive-fitted belt in Funtua, Katsina State, by security agents. The state agents also arrested Zainab Musa, her 18-year-old sister. Mike Omeri, a government spokesman, told reporters that, “…officers saw that the youngest one was strapped with explosives; it was an IED on a vest she was wearing. The girl did not offer resistance and she was stopped and her vest was demobilised.” Similarly, three ladies -Hafsat Bako, Zainab Idris and Aisha Abubakar -were arrested for allegedly masterminding the recruitment of women into the female wing of Boko Haram. There are inferences that some of the abducted Chibok girls might have become unwilling tools in the hands of jihadists.
Suicide terrorism has been the scourge of the last quarter century. It first emerged in Lebanon, in 1983; a decade later, it berthed in Israel, and now the tactic has been emulated by a number of militant Islamist groups waging jihad around the world.The Middle East Quarterly, a United States-based magazine, says its perpetrators believe jihad to be synonymous with war and mandate Muslims to strike not only at non-Muslims, but also at co-religionists deemed insufficiently loyal to their radical cause.
Perhaps, now in its pilot stage, it is not surprising that female suicide bombing is finally here. Globally, Islamist terrorists, known to be lethally flexible and inventive, are always developing new tactics to overcome security measures. For female and child suicide bombing, the logic is so simple: There is more reluctance to search women and children, considered to be “vulnerable,”which gives such attackers an advantage over men.
They are also assumed to be potentially less dangerous and may be able to approach the target with greater ease. Female suicide bombings have more shock value and greater media coverage because women are considered less likely to commit acts of mass violence. The power of religious indoctrination has always been devastating. A 16-year-old Palestinian, Hassan, caught before he could blow himself up, summed it up: “If I had been killed, my mother would call it a blessing…My family and 70 relatives would have gone to paradise, and that would be a great honour for me,” he was quoted as saying in the Jerusalem Post, an Israel newspaper.
This is the new form of terrorism Nigeria must contend with. Our security agencies should know that there is no clear profile anymore for terrorists, including suicide bombers. From Turkey to India, Sri Lanka to Iraq, Israel to Pakistan, and now Nigeria, female and child bombers have committed heinous murders around the world. The Nigerian Police authorities say though “it is a new trend in our own part of the world,” a new counter-terrorism strategy is being developed to address it.
The strongest key to keeping suicide terrorism, including its female variant, at bay is a rapid improvement in our intelligence gathering. The logical first step is to better screen women and children at key security checkpoints. In Afghanistan, for example, the Taliban sends out children on suicide bombing missions, cruelly cajoling them that they will stay alive even after they have detonated the bomb vests they are wearing, according to Frank Crimi, an American terrorism expert, who runs The Clarion Project. Nigeria must not let itself descend into this state of anarchy.
Now, Nigeria needs all hands on deck to tackle this scourge. Northern leaders must come up with effective strategies to combat radicalisation. Religious and traditional leaders need to develop effective approaches in pushing back against Boko Haram’s evil ideology and radical rhetoric from the entire North.