In modern history, female suicide bombers have earned dubious honour of becoming more news-worthy than their male counterparts following the widespread belief that women are naturally not wicked, non-violent, motherly and weak to take such deadly task of committing suicide bombing. However, records have revealed that the participation of women in any terrorist activity and even as suicide bombers is hardly a recent phenomenon as their debut suicide attacks have been traced to early eighties.
Recall the 1985 incident where a 16-year old Lebanese female suicide bomber, Late Sana’a Mehaidli, a member of Syrian Social nationalist party, an affiliation of the Lebanese National Resistance Front, blew herself and a car filled with explosives in Jezzine, Lebanon. Subsequent decades witnessed the spread of female suicide bombings in other countries after late Sana’a Mehaidli’s incident.
Another prominent example of a female suicide bomber is the 28-year old divorced and frustrated Palestinian, late WafaIdris who carried a bomb in a back-pack she wore and blew herself up during the 2002 Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Jerusalem, Israel.
Today, the Boko Haram terrorist group in Nigeria has joined the trend of using innocent young girls as suicide bombers to unleash their terror on innocent citizens. This new trend in Nigeria started in Gombe State where yet to be identified middle-aged woman wrapped an explosive round her body and headed towards the Quarter Guard of the 301 Nigerian Army base in Gombe. While she was being stopped for a search, the bomb suddenly went off.
In a similar vein, four (4) unidentified female suicide attackers heavily strapped with IEDs have at different locations; different days but almost same week of the month of July, 2014 blew themselves up while the security personnel on duty were trying to stop them from accessing their target areas in Kano State. Worried about this curious phenomenon, some Nigerians have already concluded that the Boko Haram insurgents have indoctrinated and prepared the abducted Chibok school girls for suicide missions across the country. Although the above hypothesis sounds plausible, there is no empirical evidence to support the view. The recent interception and subsequent arrest of two teenage girls by Policemen at Katsina State casts a huge doubt on the veracity of this claim as none of the two girls already strapped with explosives and prepared for suicide mission was among the abducted Chibok girls.
As can be seen from the level of damage and horror associated with female bombing, it has become paramount for law enforcement to deal with the emerging trend before it gets out of control. It is on this note that this piece will examine the choice of female suicide bombers by the terrorist groups in carrying out their attacks and the possible ways of nipping in bud or preventing this evil trend.
WHY TERRORIST GROUPS USE FEMALE SUICIDE BOMBERS
Generally, suicide bombing notoriety and the use of women to perpetrate suicide attacks are totally strange to Nigerians. The Boko Haram terrorist group sees this new trend as an effective strategy of drawing more attention of the general public and getting relevant supports from their sympathizers as they continue their criminal and violent campaign across the nation.
Terrorist organizations believe that if a woman commits a crime such as suicide attack that is deemed non-feminine, the media coverage will be extensive. This fits into the communication and strategic objectives of terror organizations in seeking massive media attention, thereby mindlessly spreading fears among the citizens, presenting government in bad light and unleashing psychological torture on innocent victims.
Another reason that account for why terrorist groups adopt this trend is that women are generally known to be more emotional, perceived to be weak and non-violent in nature. They are therefore least suspected to be the source of any security threat. For this reason, they find it easy to slip through security checks, especially those manned by male officers since they are usually not subjected to the same level of suspicion and scrutiny as their male counterparts. However, this does not amount to negligence or inefficiency on the part of the security agents but arises from the operational and professional standards of law enforcement which forbids male officers from conducting search on the body of women.
In addition, it is also easier for women to be indoctrinated especially when they are intellectually immature, uneducated and perhaps from very poor and deprived backgrounds. Remember that the innocent two sisters of about 16 and 11 years old respectively, strapped with explosive vests and arrested by the Police in Katsina were not even aware they were carrying bombs. Further investigation also revealed that both of them were orphans and thus economically and socially disadvantaged.
Lastly, apart from the perceived personal and lifetime rewards, some female suicide bombers want to be worldly known as ‘heroines’ with their terror organizations, affiliates and sympathizers. A classic example is the late Sana’a Mehaidli who was believed to have been the first female suicide bomber in Lebanon, earned in death the title of “the Bride of the South”.
PREVENTING FEMALE SUICIDE BOMBERS FROM CARRYING OUT ATTACK
Once a female suicide bomber begins to move towards a target, it is extremely hard to stop her from executing her wicked act of causing mass destruction. However, the most helpful way of nipping the planned attack in the bud is to take deliberate and effective measures aimed at isolating and frustrating her from getting to her target area. Some of such measures include:
Firstly, experienced, well-trained and well-equipped women security personnel should be part of stop and search operations to properly carry out search on females before they gain their entrance into restricted areas. In doing this, there should be no preferential treatment for any woman irrespective of her social status and age.
Secondly, there must be proactive operational action by law enforcement agents, acting intelligently, timely and systematically to neutralize suspected suicide threats. For instance, the successful arrest that took place on the29th July, 2014 in Katsina State where a 47-year old Boko Haram operative, DahiruIliya with two teenage female suicide attackers of about 16 and11 years old was as a result of the timely intervention of the Police with the full co-operation of the local security in the State. Before the arrest of the suspects, intelligence report had already revealed that the Boko Haram terrorists have concluded plans to unleash mayhem using female suicide attackers during the Ramadan fasting period. The two female suicide bombers who were of the same parent were already strapped with suicide vests unknowingly to them in a Honda CRV car at Tudun Wada where the Police patrol team arrested them.
Thirdly, authorities in charge of potential soft targets such as worship centres, institutions of learning, markets and other critical infrastructure should take deliberate measures to strengthen the security in their premises by using crime prevention and monitoring devices such as bomb-jammers and Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras in addition to security agents.
Conscious of the fact that ignorance and poverty provide fertile grounds for radicalization, it is important that governments at all levels should develop and implement holistic measures aimed at preventing the radicalization of our young girls through massive education and empowerment programmes.
Parents, teachers and religious leaders should be engaged in positive socialization and always see themselves as structures and mechanisms of social order by assisting our children and youths in moral development, acquiring right behaviours and admirable culture of respect for our value system as well as attitudes that will form part of their daily life. The opinion leaders must not hesitate to speak out when the youths are being misled. As rightly noted recently by the Sultan of Sokoto, “nobody can bomb their way to Heaven in the name of suicide attack.”
More so, head of security agencies and government at all levels must collaboratively work towards establishing community based law enforcement agencies that have the confidence and support of the citizens in the crucial task of securing lives and property. This will in addition, facilitate the free flow of information and strengthen intelligence-sharing culture amongst the law enforcement communities. Citizens on their part also, must acknowledge the fact that security is a collective responsibility of all.
Finally, we must remember that the greatest success in preventing female suicide bombers from carrying out their foul acts largely depends on the willingness of the public to report all suspicious activities to the security agents. It is also very important for the governments and other relevant stake holders to support the security Forces by providing necessary working implements and improving on the welfare of Police personnel and other security agencies in the country.
Frank Mba, an Assistant Commissioner of Police is the Force Public Relations Officer