Two days ago, on the 10th of February, at least three women posing as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) gained entry to a humanitarian encampment in the remote Nigerian town of Dikwa, Borno Province. One – who realised at the last minute that her family were present in the camp – pulled out and escaped before being picked up by the security services. The other two set off their suicide vests, killing at least 58 people and injuring many more.
Sources at the camp reportedly said it was impossible to say how many victims there were exactly; body parts were ‘everywhere’ after the attack.
In addition to the human cost, the targeting of aid facilities such as IDP camps may have much broader consequences for the provision of basic human services to the region.
The Dikwa attack was a grisly and horrific attack on civilians who had already suffered all of the indignities and challenges of displacement thanks to the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency that has plagued Nigeria’s northeast. Many of the residents of the camp were apparently former captives of the group, rescued in a recent Nigerian military operation that succeeded in freeing around 100 hostages. Nigerian IDP camps have been the target of attacks before: in September 2015 an IED was detonated in a tent in an IDP camp in neighbouring Yola Province.
Boko Haram began its insurgency in 2009, but until relatively recently it largely made use of guerrilla tactics with small arms and IEDs. Until late 2015, it made only occasional use of suicide bombings. These bombings were also largely confined to Nigeria, its main area of interest.
However, military victories by a local coalition including Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger and Chad have seen the organisation resort more and more to attacks on ‘soft’ targets. Many of these attacks have been high-profile suicide bombings.
In 2015 AOAV recorded 80 suicide bombings in Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria. These attacks resulted in more than 2,000 deaths and injuries. The vast majority of these victims were civilians – each attack killed and injured an average of 37 civilians. Whilst the vast majority of these attacks go unclaimed, all of them are likely to be the handiwork of the group.
Despite successes in the ongoing campaign to defeat Boko Haram, suicide attacks show no sign of letting up or of becoming less lethal. In fact, as of the 12th of February, AOAV’s provisional data shows 7 suicide bombings in Cameroon and Nigeria, which taken together have killed and injured at least 361 civilians. That’s an average of 52 civilians killed and injured per attack – higher than 2015.
To compare, in 2015 in Iraq and Syria, the average suicide bombing recorded by AOAV killed and injured 32 civilians.
Boko Haram’s high fatality rates are particularly alarming when we remember that unlike ISIS and other groups, who deliver huge explosive payloads into civilian areas by vehicle, Boko Haram does not use car bombings. Of the 80 incidents recorded by AOAV in 2015, 77 were carried out by teams of bombers equipped only with explosive belts. But what the group lacks in technology it makes up for with large numbers of bombers and tactics designed to maximise civilian casualties.
AOAV calls upon Boko Haram and all other groups to put an end to the deliberate targeting of civilians. AOAV has also previously highlighted the importance of control and regulation of precursor materials in curtailing the effectiveness of improvised explosive devices of all kinds. This includes those used in suicide vests. Stockpile control is made particularly urgent by Boko Haram’s previous industrial stockpile raiding and plundering of French cluster munitions to replenish its supplies of explosives. If pressure can be placed on the group’s plentiful supply of explosive material, perhaps there is a possibility of mitigating some of the enormous civilian harm caused by suicide bombings.
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