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Boko Haram Escalates Cameroon Female Suicide Bombings 

Over 100 persons have died from Boko Haram attacks in Cameroon since July

By Clovis Atatah

Three women were among four suspected Boko Haram suicide bombers that blew themselves up in the village of Nigue in the Far North Region of Cameroon on Saturday, November 21, in an incident that left at least 8 persons dead, Reuters reported. Several other reports spoke of four female suicide bombers.

Boko Haram, the Islamist group that has been trying to establish a caliphate in Nigeria for the past six years, but which is also active in neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger, has increasingly deployed women in northern Cameroon to carry out attacks.

Less than two weeks before the Nigue incident, five persons died after two female suicide bombers struck in the town of Fotokol in Cameroon’s Far North Region.

In the past, Boko Haram has typically used two female suicide bombers in a single attack. Last weekend’s attack appears to be the first time at least three female suicide bombers were deployed in northern Cameroon to strike simultaneously.

This suggests an escalation by the terrorist group that has pledged allegiance to Daesh (also known as IS, ISIL and ISIS), which is currently waging a global jihad. Over the past several months, female suicide bombers have been involved in a series of suspected Boko Haram attacks in northern Cameroon, with over 100 persons losing their lives since July.

Apart from Cameroon, Boko Haram has repeatedly deployed female suicide bombers, including girls, in the other countries where it is active, especially Nigeria that has recorded a huge toll from such attacks. This contrasts with other regions of the world where terrorism is virtually an exclusive male club.

Mainstream international media went into a frenzy last week when French authorities reported that a woman blew herself up using a suicide belt at a terrorist hideout in Saint-Denis, France. If true, it would have been the first female suicide bombing in the entire Europe. Authorities later clarified that the suicide bomber in question was a man.

The increasing participation of women in terrorist attacks in northern Cameroon and neighbouring countries has therefore raised questions about whether the group is more successful at radicalizing women than terrorist organizations in other parts of the world, or whether they are just better at tricking and/or coercing women and girls in a region where female illiteracy is very high and where many still consider the “fairer sex” as subordinate to men.

Two Nigerian scholars, Freedom Onuoha and George Temilola, explore these questions in a research paper published this year, suggesting that the female suicide bombers could have been brainwashed, tricked or coerced by Boko Haram. But their paper is full of conjectures and short on evidence, with the scholars rather focusing on suggestions on how the authorities could arrive at the truth.

Answers to the above questions are difficult partly due to the scant information security agencies have released on the identities and motivations of the female “terrorists”.

It may also be that the security services don’t know any better. Judging by their track record, it is doubtful that security services have been able to identify most of the female suicide bombers who successfully blew themselves up. In a region where up-to-date biometric databases is virtually non-existent and with limited technological capacities of security agencies, it is difficult to see how authorities will be able to identify mangled bodies, often blown up to pieces, on the basis of DNA analyses alone.

To compound this identification problem, hardly have any social media accounts been identified as belonging to these female suicide bombers and no suicide audio or video messages have been found.

Failure to identify the female suicide bombers means the security agencies are unable to interview family members, friends, neighbours and members of the various communities from which the “terrorists” emanate to understand the exact circumstances surrounding these acts and the possible motivations driving the individual perpetrators. The absence of audio or video messages by the perpetrators prior to their suicidal acts only compounds matters for security services and researchers.

With 300 U.S. military advisers currently deployed to Cameroon to train local security operatives and assist in the fight against Islamist militants, it is believed that the country will soon be doing a better job at identifying suicide bombers and establishing the circumstances surrounding terrorist attacks.

As for Boko Haram, recently designated the deadliest terrorist organisation in the world, it is likely that the group, aiming to wreak as much havoc as possible, will continue to attempt to deploy female suicide bombers in the areas where it is active.

Clovis Atatah is the editor of