Every week, The WorldPost asks an expert to shed light on a topic making headlines around the world. Today, we speak with Elizabeth Pearson about Boko Haram’s use of female suicide bombers.
Last Sunday, a small girl strapped with explosives killed herself and five others at a market in Potiskum, a town in northeast Nigeria. Witnesses said the girl looked about 7 years old. The week before that, a young woman blew herself up at a bus station in the nearby town of Damaturu, leaving at least 10 people dead. Witnesses said they thought the bomber looked about 16. Most of the casualties were children who had been begging nearby.
The bombings are widely believed to be the work of Boko Haram, the extremist group that is carrying out a brutal insurgency in northeast Nigeria and that last year kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls in the town of Chibok. The group has stepped up its suicide attacks in the past year, particularly those involving girls and women.
The WorldPost discussed the rise in attacks with Elizabeth Pearson, a gender and radicalization researcher in defense studies at King’s College London. She’s also a member of the Nigeria Security Network and has written about female suicide bombers in Nigeria.
When did Boko Haram start using suicide bombers?
Boko Haram carried out its first suicide bombing fairly recently, in 2011. It was a significant development. Nigeria does not have a history of suicide bombing and suicide is not culturally accepted.
When did the group first use female suicide bombers?
The first female suicide bombing was reported in June last year, when a middle-aged woman blew herself up at army barracks in Gombe, northeast Nigeria. This was the first of a wave of suicide attacks by women and girls in Nigeria. There were six such attacks in six weeks.
Have the attacks continued at the same pace?
After the first wave in the summer, there was a brief lull, but since November there have been several attacks by female suicide bombers each month. In total, 27 women and girls have reportedly been involved in suicide attacks in the country. We’re also still seeing suicide bombings by men.
The intensity of the attacks is striking in a global perspective. In 2014, Nigeria saw around 85 percent of all female suicide bombings around the world. Boko Haram has embraced this tactic with vigor.
What do you think motivates the group to use suicide bombers?
Many analysts understood Boko Haram’s first suicide attacks to indicate growing connections between Boko Haram…