An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Boko Haram Enlists Young Girls As Suicide Bombers


In Nigeria, the Islamist group Boko Haram keeps using female suicide bombers to spread its terror and to try and take the north of the country. Last week, three girls believed to be between the ages of 11 and 15 were used in a suicide attack on a mosque. A similar attack using girls last month left more than a hundred people dead. Mausi Segun is the Nigeria researcher for Human Rights Watch in the capital, Abuja. We reached her, and we asked her why Boko Haram is using women and young girls to carry out these attacks.

MAUSI SEGUN: It's easier for women and girls to slip into crowds where they can carry out mass atrocities than for men. In northern Nigeria, the dressing of the woman gives her the ability to move about with all kinds of things undetected. She wears a long, voluminous head veil that reaches, sometimes, to the ankles - and also because security forces are not prone to searching women. But this is not new. Boko Haram started using suicide bombers, I think, as early as June, 2014. We have begun to see young girls, some as young as 10, carrying out these attacks in horrible places.

GREENE: Do we know anything about them at all, who they are?

SEGUN: In the city of Kano, two girls detonated their bombs and killed more than 30 people. But a third girl found her way to a hospital. She was handed over to security forces, who then realized that she had bombs strapped around her body. This young girl disclosed to security forces that she had been - well, I don't know the word to use. But her father, who is a member of Boko Haram from Bauchi State, had donated her. And she said that at the time that she - her father told her and the leaders of the group informed her that this was going to be her assignment and her last assignment on Earth, she said she rebelled at the idea but that when she saw another girl who had refused to carry out the assignment half-buried in the ground and pelted with stones until she died, she said she quickly gave in because she knew that one way or the other, whether she agreed or she did not agree, she would be killed. So it's clear that wherever the girls are, wherever they are from, they are being compelled by those in authority.

GREENE: But it sounds like, based on that awful story, that - I mean, at least in that case, that was the daughter of a member of Boko Haram and not, for example, you know, girls who've been kidnapped by the group. I mean, I'm thinking of course of the school that we heard so much about where several hundred girls were kidnapped last year.

SEGUN: It's very doubtful, from our own research, that the group would be willing to use youth that they have abducted - one, because I think that in their warped thinking, the place and the reward of a suicide bomber is martyrdom. And their reward would be paradise, in their thinking. For the women and girls who have been brutally abducted, they would not be deserving of any kind of reward. I think that they consider it as a privilege, and you - probably you have to be a privileged member of the group - or your parent - before you can be given this all-important, horrible task.

GREENE: Mausi Segun is the Nigeria researcher for Human Rights Watch, and we've been speaking to her from the capital, Abuja. Mausi, thank you for giving us some insight into this. We appreciate it.

SEGUN: It's been a pleasure, David. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.