By Philip Obaji Jr.
The town of Madagali, located just at the edge of Sambissa forest in Nigeria’s northeastern Adamawa State, is a place where Boko Haram girls like to bomb.
Since Nigerian forces regained control of the town from Boko Haram in 2015, bomb attacks on soft targets have been frequent, and most if not all have been carried out by young girls.
In the last two years, over a hundred people have been killed by female bombers in four separate attacks in Madagali. But after last month’s deadly bombing in which 56 civilians were killed, security was beefed up in the area, and anyone entering into the town was searched first by local vigilantes – and then by the military.
This new screening system – though of much greater risk to security personnel – proved to be effective in identifying suicide bombers. A couple of intended suicide attacks have been foiled in the last two weeks by members of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), a group of vigilantes helping the military fight Boko Haram, and also by Nigerian soldiers.
On January 4, three female suicide bombers were shot dead in Bakin Dutse, a village in Gulak town, close to Madagali town. Officials said the three girls had planned to attack a market in Gulak before they were intercepted.
“On seeing them (the suicide bombers) fast approaching, they (the CJTF) asked them to stop but the girls declined instead running faster, so one was instantly gunned down and the bomb on her body exploded. So also the second girl. The third girl attempted to run but could not succeed as she was also shot dead,” Yusuf Gulak, a local official, told ICIR Nigeria.
A week before this incident, the CJTF foiled an attempt by two female suicide bombers to attack a cattle market in the restive city of Maiduguri in neighboring Borno State on Boxing Day, last month.
The vigilantes suspected they were carrying bombs when the girls rushed passed security and began to roam round the market.
One of them accidentally blew herself up as the CJTF came after her while the other was arrested by the vigilante group.Boko Haram failing at two consecutive suicide attempts is hardly heard of. The group’s previous failures at hitting its targets had more to do with the naivety of its suicide bombers than the alertness of security personnel. Now that it appears the CJTF and the military are keeping an eye on every civilian movement in vulnerable places, the jihadists are finding it hard to penetrate the way they are used to.
But Boko Haram has now created a new form of attack – bombing with babies.
On January 20, three female suicide bombers blew themselves up, killing at least 11 people and injuring 14 others as they approached a check point where the CJTF screen those entering Madagali.
One of the suicide bombers had a baby on her back, an apparent move to fool security officials into believing that she was a nursing mother and as such, shouldn’t be suspected of being a terrorist.
Witnesses said she was wearing a long hijab which covered the baby, and in-between her and the child was a bomb which the infant was resting on.
“She was the first to approach the vigilantes who didn’t suspect her because she was carrying a baby. After she scaled through, she stood at a corner waiting for the other girls,” a member of the CJTF who had been briefed on the incident by colleagues present, told The Daily Beast.
But the others appeared to be too scared of passing through security as they kept roaming round the check point, reluctant to advance. When men from the CJTF approached them, they detonated their devices, killing a couple of the vigilantes in the process. The first suicide bomber then blew herself and the baby up thereafter.
“She (the suicide bomber carrying a baby) must have envisaged that she would be shot by the soldiers nearby if she didn’t act fast. It appeared their main target was actually the market close to the check point,” the CJTF member said.
Using babies to carryout suicide attacks may appear new, but this system has been tested by the jihadists in the past. Then, it was unsuccessful.
On November 28 precisely, a woman suicide bomber carrying a baby on her back was shot by soldiers at a checkpoint in Maiduguri. Her explosives detonated as a result of the shot, killing the woman and the baby. Since then, no suicide attack involving a baby has been reported.
The idea of using babies as deceptions in the build up to suicide attacks may have been thought of by Boko Haram from start.
When the jihadists began to deploy female suicide bombers, the ladies had bombs tied firmly to their back in the same manner used by many women to carry their children in northern Nigeria.
In some cases, the women wrapped bombs in thick clothes and placed them on their backs to make it appear as if they were carrying babies behind them.InOctober 2015, the Nigerian army published photos of large cluster munitions used by two female suicide bombers in an attack in Cameroon’s northern Kangeleri Mora District which killed nine people and injured 29 others.
The explosives which appeared to be French-made Belouga bombs are about the size of infants, and were believed to have been placed on the back of the bombers who covered them with their hijab.
Although each Belouga bomb weighs 285 kilos and contains 151 bomblets (or grenades, as the French call them) which may be too heavy for kids to carry, the smaller GR-66-EG submunitions weigh only 1.3 kilos, or 2.87 pounds each, and may be the kind of infant-sized bombs Boko Haram female bombers use in their suicide attacks.
“Now that the CJTF is aware of this trick, it is going to be more vigilant. No one is going overlook any lady because she is pregnant, or because she is carrying a baby,” said Yusuf Mohammed, an advisor to the vigilante group, based in Maiduguri.
A large part of this article originally appeared on The Daily Beast