A string of suicide bombings by young women in northern Nigeria are stoking fear and prompting speculation that Boko Haram may be indoctrinating or coercing its kidnapping victims into radical Islam.
One woman blew herself up at a gas station July 28, killing three people in one of three suicide bombings by women in Kano, Nigeria, in two days, police said. Another female suicide bomber exploded her device across from a Shoprite supermarket the same day.
The day before, a 15-year-old girl detonated a bomb near a temporary university site, killing only herself, according to Kano State Police Commissioner Aderenle Shinaba.
Another girl strapped with explosives was stopped with two accomplices before she could set off the device. Police arrested a man in his 20s, and two sisters, 19-year-old Zainab Musa and 10-year-old Hadiza Musa, after they stopped at a police roadblock, The Telegraph reported. Hadiza Musa was wearing explosives.
The rash of female suicide bombings prompted speculation in the African press that Boko Haram might be turning kidnapped girls, such as the more than 200 who were abducted from Chibok in April, into bombers. Most of those girls were Christians, according to International Christian Concern (ICC).
In May, the terrorist group claimed that all the girls had converted to Islam.
In light of forced conversion and brutality, Todd Nettleton of Voice of the Martyrs said the speculation was reasonable, although so far no evidence links the bombers to any kidnappings. “We don’t know for sure if any of these four suicide bombers were kidnapped from Chibok or in some previous kidnapping,” he said.
But the claims of conversion make Nettleton wonder about whether they’re being radicalized. “I wonder if their situation is so terrible where they are being held that suicide seems like a good option,” he said.
ICC’s Cameron Thomas considered the speculation “plausible” but said there were other immediate concerns for the girls’ plight.
“Women are once again being made the victims of Boko Haram’s endless pursuit for a separate Islamic state,” Thomas said. “In propaganda videos, Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, has proudly declared his intention to sell those abducted as child brides into lifetimes of rape by their militant captors. Images have been released of Boko Haram forcefully converting those abducted—90 percent of whom are professed Christians—to Islam.”
Boko Haram has killed thousands of people in five years of insurgency. Nettleton said the group has also kidnapped women and young girls for years. Until now, female suicide bombers have been rare in Nigeria.
The Nigerian government, which has struggled with its image in the wake of international attention and criticism about the kidnapped girls, insisted the female suicide bombers were not Chibok girls but recruited beggars, according to African news outlet This Day. Nigeria’s Defense Ministry had also been criticized for not quickly rescuing the girls. It claims it knows where they are being held but fears any military campaign could get them killed.
Nettleton said Musa’s background would shed light into the Kano bombings and that it would be interesting how quickly the Nigerian government makes that information public.