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Nigeria’s female suicide bombers

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CPOST data on suicide attacks in Nigeria since 2010.

A report released by UNICEF yesterday details a sharp increase in the use of women and children to perpetrate suicide attacks in Nigeria.

UNICEF reports that it has recorded 27 suicide attacks in the country in the first five months of this year alone, perpetrated principally by Boko Haram. This total has already surpassed the number of suicide bombings in the whole of 2014, when 26 attacks took place. According to Laurent Dutordoir, UNICEF child protection specialist, women and children are used in 75% of the attacks.

In cases involving children, it is reported that all incidents involved female bombers. Since July 2014, nine suicide attacks have been carried out by girls between the ages of 7 and 17, although terming them ‘suicide attacks’ is troubling in itself as coercion is undoubtedly being used in these instances. Sometimes they are aware that they are on a bombing mission, says Dutordoir, but not always. Jean Gough, UNICEF representative in Nigeria, echoes these sentiments: “Children are not instigating these suicide attacks; they are used intentionally by adults in the most horrific way. They are first and foremost victims – not perpetrators.”

Suicide bombers in Nigeria typically target populated areas such as markets and bus stations, and these IED attacks consequently cause many civilian deaths and injuries.

Girls are reportedly being increasingly used to carry out attacks in such crowded areas as they can pass through security more easily than men or boys. Like the attack in Potiskum in February 2015, when a girl thought to be as young as seven killed herself and five others. Or the week before when a girl reported to be around 16 years old died alongside at least ten others at a bus station in Damaturu. Or the two teenage girls who blew themselves up in a market in Maiduguri in November 2014, killing at least 30 people.

The increase in the numbers of female suicide bombers in Nigeria has been rapid and shocking. The first recorded attack was in June 2014, when a middle-aged woman detonated explosives at an army barracks in Gombe. Then in the whole of 2014, 85% of the suicide attacks around the world perpetrated by females took place in Nigeria. Having only experienced its first suicide bomb in 2011, Nigeria is now one of the most dangerous places in the world for improvised explosive devices (IEDs), including suicide attacks. AOAV has tracked the global use of IEDs since the beginning of 2011, and in 2014 recorded 2,345 civilian casualties from IED use in Nigeria. It was the second most impacted country by IEDs in 2014, only Iraq was worse.

The use and impact of suicide bombing in Nigeria in 2014 is explored in detail a new report that AOAV will publish in June.

The Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism (CPOST) has recorded suicide attacks globally since 1982. In Nigeria in 2014, CPOST found that 41.2% of all incidents were reported to be carried out by female suicide bombers, an extremely high percentage when in 52.9% of all incidents in the country the gender of the perpetrator was not reported. This is compared to the global data, where 97% of those perpetrating suicide bombings in 2014 were male in incidents where gender was known.

In the first two months of 2015, CPOST has already recorded 19 suicide attacks in the Nigeria. Of these, 40% have been perpetrated by women. It seems likely that the increasing use of suicide bombs, and the use of women as perpetrators, will continue in the months ahead.

The evidence from Nigeria points to several distressing trends. The first is the role of coercion or manipulation to force unwilling participants, including children, to carry out attacks that will likely lead to their own deaths and the deaths of others. This is a shameful practice that AOAV condemns utterly. Moreover, the rise of suicide bombing as a tactic of IED use in Nigeria is one which causing some of the most destructive and deadly attacks recorded by AOAV. Attacks which deliberately target civilians, or are indiscriminate in their nature, are illegal under international humanitarian law. AOAV calls on states to do all in their power to undermine and restrict the availability of IED materials to prevent such future attacks, and urges all users of explosive weapons, including IEDs, to stop the use of such weapons in populated areas.

For more information please contact Jane Hunter, Armed Violence Researcher,