Saturday, July 12, 2014

Behold The Women of Boko Haram

Recent events involving female Boko Haram members and their arrests are shooting down the widespread notion that terrorism is strictly an all-male affair. Weekly Trust reports.

In June this year, a woman, laced with explosive devices concealed inside her Hijab killed herself and a soldier close to the quarter-guard of the 301 Battalion of the Nigerian Army in Gombe. The incident was undoubtedly the first of its kind in Gombe, which was before then seen as the “safest state capital” in the volatile North-East, a region in Nigeria that is plagued by members of the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lidda’awati Jihad, also known as Boko Haram.

Sources told Weekly Trust that soldiers keeping guard at the main entrance of the barracks had asked the woman to turn back but she declined, prompting one of the soldiers to run after her not knowing that she had an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) strapped on. She blew herself up and the soldier, causing pandemonium in the state. 

The incident brought to limelight the unpredictable nature of Boko Haram’s violence spree, which has been mutating since 2009 when the group launched armed struggle against the Nigerian state.

A week ago, the Nigerian Army released a statement stating that three women who specialized in espionage for Boko Haram had been arrested, as the aftermath of the failed suicide bombing attempt at the 301 Battalion in Gombe, pointing that the suspects had been secretly recruiting ladies into the female wing of the terror group. 

The army statement said the suspects, led by Hafsat Usman Bako, include Zainab Idris and Aisha Abubakar and they were nabbed while travelling to Madagali in Adamawa State on their way to now-infamous Sambisa Forest. Findings by Weekly Trust show that all the suspects are married to Boko Haram members.

The revelation by security authorities of the involvement of women in Boko Haram’s activities shocked many, even though they have been passive supporters of their male counterparts. 

In June, 2009, preparatory to the declaration of war by Mohammed Yusuf, the late leader of the sect, hundreds of women from Bauchi, Plateau, Adamawa, Gombe, Kano, Kaduna, Damaturu, Darazo, Zaria, Sokoto and many cities in Nigeria accompanied their husbands to Maiduguri for the final briefing that set the flames of the crisis raging. 

During the time under review, the sect was not proscribed and its members travelled at will. They also preached in the open, especially in Markas (headquarters of the sect) and Anguwan Doki, all in Maiduguri. 

Dozens of Islamiyya schoolgirls equally defied the odds, volunteered and followed their teachers to Maiduguri. Many married women who were not “disposed” to the resolve of their husbands to go for the “Jihad” were divorced and those that agreed to follow suit played the role of housekeepers. 

After the deadly 2009 encounter between Nigerian troops and members of Boko Haram in Maiduguri, Bauchi and Potiskum, hundreds of men were killed, automatically creating many widows. 

The group went underground for nearly one year. Within that quiet period, most Nigerians, as well as the Federal Government, thought that the sect was completely subdued, until they sprung a surprise in 2010. After the death of Mohammed Yusuf, Abubakar Shekau took over the leadership of the group, engaged in massive recruitment, coupled with carefully looking for the widows of their slain members and remarrying them to surviving members and new entrants. 

While the sect carried out violent campaigns, the women of the sect remained silent. It was in May, 2013 that the womenfolk of the sect began to play active role in the violence, necessitated by the emergence of youth vigilantes known as ‘Civilian JTF’. Boko Haram was stifled by the emergence of the vigilantes, so they switched to assigning women key roles. They would even use men who would disguise as women to move weapons. When the new threat became clearer, women volunteers in Maiduguri joined the civilian JTF in their stop-and-search operations. 

Towards the end of June, 2013 the Joint Task Force (JTF) shot dead three suspected Boko Haram members who disguised as women while attempting an attack on a police station. Witnesses said apart from the three killed, over 20 men, heavily armed and clad in Hijab were arrested there. Since then, many cases of suspected female Boko Haram members were recorded.

One of such cases was when a woman was killed by a bomb that was strapped to her back like a baby along Gamboru Road in Maiduguri before she got to her target. Days after, two women who also strapped IEDs, baby-style, were arrested at the Monday Market by youth vigilantes who observed that the suspects were making suspicious movements towards the market. Not long after, three women were arrested by military operatives close to Sanda Kyarimi Zoo Park, also in Maiduguri, when they sought to know what the women were carrying beneath their hijabs. 

A cleric, Mallam Muhtar Muhammad observed that terrorism does not have a place in Islam, stressing that the involvement of women in such acts exposes the sanctity of the religion and women to danger. He said women are exceedingly protected in Islam. “Sadly, their recent involvement in perfecting acts of criminality, especially suicide missions is unfortunate. Any woman that wears Hijab and attempted to go close to public utilities is looked at with suspicion…this is unfortunate,” he said.

Weekly Trust discovered that while some of the women of Boko Haram joined the group because they love their husbands, some observers suggest that some were forcefully indoctrinated, especially those who were kidnapped. It is believed that Boko Haram leaders are now using women as cover to carry out crimes because of the traditional and religious immunity given to women, which forbids men that are not their Muharrim (custodians) to go close to them.

In a study on the relationship between gender and violent behaviour, Afghan scholar Amy Caiazza observed that “Societies that condone and even promote violence against women have shown over and over again that they (women) tend to be violent in other ways as well.” 

The involvement of women in Boko Haram’s violence remains an alarming antecedent in a region where thousands have been lost and social and economic development truncated.

culled from

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