Aid groups are rethinking their strategies on how to distribute food and other supplies in places like Nigeria and Cameroon because of a disturbing trend in Boko Haram’s use of women as suicide bombers.
The problem has gotten so bad that local officials are torn when they are approached by a woman or girl.
“This isn’t something you can defeat or eradicate outright,” Issa Tchiroma Bakary, the minister of communications in Cameroon, told The New York Times. “You don’t know who is who. When you see a young girl moving toward you, you don’t know if she’s hiding a bomb.” Soldiers cannot open fire on every woman or girl who looks suspicious, he said. Boko Haram knows “where we have the Achilles’ heel,” he added.
The African jihadist group, which has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State group, has used at least 105 women and girls in suicide attacks since June 2014, the newspaper notes. Since such attacks have occurred in refugee camps—as well as army barracks, markets, houses of worship and schools—there is the possibility that humanitarian aid workers could be caught up in the violence as well.
This is not the first time Boko Haram has misused women. Since the capture of some 300 school girls from Nigerian village of Chibok two years ago, the militants have abducted and raped hundreds of other women and girls. They are sometimes intentionally impregnated, “perhaps with the goal of creating a new generation of fighters,” the Times speculated.
The paper interviewed a 47-year-old Christian who had escaped Boko Haram captivity. Rahila Amos said she was forced to enroll in classes on Islam — and eventually on suicide bombing and decapitation, with tips such as:
Hold the bomb under your armpit to keep it steady. Sever your enemy’s head from behind, to minimize struggling. If you cut from the back of the neck, they die faster.
While some speculate about whether the bomb carriers are aware of their deadly cargo, or whether they are drugged, Amos said the jihadists use food deprivation and promises of eternal life to groom potential bombers.
She said that when Boko Haram stormed her hometown in 2014, her two brothers were shot dead. Her husband managed to flee with five of their children, but Ms. Amos did not make it out, and neither did two of their other young children and a grandchild. Boko Haram rounded them up with other women and children, putting them in a long ditch to contain them. They stayed there for days, eating one meal a day of a corn paste made from powder. Finally a fighter arrived and asked a fateful question: Do you want to follow Christ, or do you want to be a Muslim? The women all agreed to follow Islam, fearing they would be killed otherwise. Their training began.