The militant Islamist insurgency Boko Haram has reportedly deployed more than 50 female suicide bombers throughout Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State in northeast Nigeria, intending to kill 100,000 people before the end of the year.
The plot was revealed after a suspected suicide bomber was apprehended on Tuesday at the entrance of the University of Maiduguri by members of the Civilian Joint Task Force, a non-military vigilante group, and confessed. Another female suicide bomber was arrested on the same day near the Maiduguri post office, a few miles northwest of the university.
The information follows a spate of devastating attacks by Boko Haram on civilians and police forces in the area since the end of November. More than 70 people were killed when two female suicide bombers attacked a market on November 25, while another market attack by a female suicide bomber on Monday killed 22 and injured more than 40.
Two hours before Monday's bombing, armed militants attacked police posts near both Maiduguri and Damaturu, a city about 80 miles west of Maiduguri, resulting in the deaths of 38 police officers and 115 others.
Women have played an increasingly prominent role in Boko Haram's campaign of terror and violence this year. According to Jacob Zenn, an expert on extremism and African affairs at the Jamestown Foundation, a conflict research firm, the insurgent movement is behind more than 15 attacks or attempted attacks by female suicide bombers since April this year. Prior to then, the group hadn't enlisted women as suicide bombers.
"This is likely a tactic learned from terrorist groups abroad, and is effective because women traditionally are not expected to be in the role of a suicide bomber in Nigeria," Zenn told VICE News. "They are less likely to be suspected, inspected, or detected."
Some observers have associated this spike in female suicide bombers with Boko Haram's notorious kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from a state secondary school in the Chibok area of Borno State this past April, and are beginning to speculate that the group is deploying these girls as suicide bombers throughout northeast Nigeria. A report earlier this year in the Nigerian newspaper the Daily Independent pointed out that the women undertaking the suicide bomb attacks have been between 15 to 18 years old, which is the general age range of those that were kidnapped.
Mia Bloom, an expert on female terrorism and a professor at the Center for Terrorism and Security Studies at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, told VICE News it is highly probable that Boko Haram is using the kidnapped schoolgirls as suicide bombers.
She explained that the insurgents could have accomplished this "either because of brain washing, or because Boko Haram has humiliated them sexually, like with rape, so that there's no option but to become a suicide bomber because of the honor code in place in traditional Nigerian societies."
Zenn agreed, but noted that thus far none of the suicide bombers have been identified as belonging to the group of kidnapped students.
"There is no clear evidence that any of the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls have been deployed as female suicide bombers," he said, though he acknowledged "an operational connection between the cells that are organizing the female suicide bombings and the cells that carried out the Chibok kidnapping."
Boko Haram, whose name roughly translates to "Western education is forbidden," formed in 2002 with the intention of turning Nigeria into a hardline Islamist state. Since it began carrying out attacks against the government and civilians in 2009, more than 5,000 people have been killed.
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