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SUICIDE BOMBING: New Weapon Of Retreating Boko Haram

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Aftermath of a suicide bombing

Aftermath of a suicide bombing

WHEN the insurgent group, Boko Haram, launched its first suicide bombing attack on June 16, 2011 at the Louis Edet House, headquarters of the Nigeria Police Force, Abuja, it marked the first formal deployment of suicide bombings to achieve political objectives and to cause anarchy in Nigeria.

This was ratcheted up just over two months after on August 26, 2011, when another suicide bomber rammed his car into the United Nations compound, Abuja, killing 21 people.

And in the last one month when the Nigerian military, along with the allied militaries of Cameroun, Chad and Niger launched the new sustained offensive against the group, degrading their infrastructure in the process, the use of suicide bombers has escalated. And majority of the suicide bombers are young girls, some as young as 10 years.

These suicide bombings involve the deliberate death of the perpetrator, with the person functioning as the sophisticated guidance system for the weapon. They either wear explosive vests, as prevalent among majority of the Boko Haram women suicide bombers or driving a car filled with ammonium nitrate and or Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). They then approach a target and detonate at the most devastating moment.

There have been at least about 29 suicide bombings so far by the insurgents, with about 11 of such suicide bombings taking place in the last one month. Indeed, this has been unprecedented. And the fear within military and security circles is that this may become a major weapon of choice for the insurgents, as the pressure on them mounts and new source of support emerges from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which the Nigerian terror merchandise pledged allegiance.

The Islamic State militant group accepted Boko Haram’s pledge of allegiance on Thursday. In pledging the ‘bayat’ to the Islamic State last Saturday, Boko Haram said: “We announce our allegiance to the Caliph … and will hear and obey in times of difficulty and prosperity, in hardship and ease…”

In an audio message entitled ‘kill and be killed’ and released through the ISIS militants’ vast social media channels, a spokesperson, in welcoming Boko Haram’s loyalty on behalf of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, said: “We announce to you to the good news of the expansion of the caliphate to West Africa. Our caliph has accepted the pledge of loyalty of our brothers of Boko Haram so we congratulate Muslims and our jihadi brothers in West Africa.”

nigeria-violence 2** CopyThe ISIS then urged Muslims, who could not join the fight in Syria to enter the conflict in the Boko Haram occupied territories instead.

ISIS has a few foreign groups from which it has accepted pledges, including Ansar Bayt al-Maqdisi in the Egyptian Sinai and groups of fighters in strategic areas of Libya.
There have been earlier predictions of a possible merger of the Boko Haram-ISIS terror franchises. But security sources view the pledge of allegiance and the quick acceptance by ISIS as showing that both of them are fighting to keep control of the areas they easily overran as using it as opportunity for emotional push-up in their down time.

For the Nigerian defence and security system sources, the pledge is sign of “desperation by Boko Haram who are into a last ditch effort to further internationalise the conflict, inject new cash and bring in more radicalised and battle tested fighters into its fold. They seem to be succeeding, as they want to create the aura of invincibility and fear. And this has definitely led to fear by the populace, which is the major motivation of terrorism and insurgency, and a good boost for jihadist propaganda.”

Aaron Zelin, a terrorism researcher with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy told a United States publication, the Business Insider, that with the acceptance, ISIS will have to send emissaries to the Boko Haram leadership where they are holed up in North Eastern part of the country to work out the terms of the relationship between the groups and that that the elusive Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, would assume the title of ‘vali’, or provincial emir.

Zelin explained that ISIS has a shura council that dictates the group’s strategic direction, but takes a devolved, hands-off approach on tactical matters, stating: “It’s sort of like centralised decentralisation.”

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies and a leading public authority on violent non-state groups noted that Boko Haram’s pledge of bayat to ISIS is “a real game changer. Now ISIS has a much more viable Africa network, which means there’s a greater chance that there will be splinters from organisations like Ansar al-Sharia in Libya and Tunisia. And ISIS gets a piece of good news in a time when it’s showing signs of internal fracture and suffering losses in the Sunni regions of Iraq, most notably in Saddam Hussein’s birthplace of Tikrit. This was going to be a week where ISIS had a very clear loss of momentum in Iraq and Syria. It was finally becoming undeniable that they were in big trouble.”

Accepting Boko Haram’s pledge gives ISIS “territorial options,” Gartenstein-Ross said, along with “the perception that this is a movement on the rise. Even if it’s experiencing losses in other areas, now it has something it can point to in terms of its continuing momentum.”

In fact, this pledge of allegiance by Boko Haram and acceptance is feared, may lead to the group getting new influx of weapons and terror masterminds, who may want to organise sophisticated, co-ordinated attacks, designed to inflict the largest number of civilian casualties. So far, the suicide bombings have not come close to the five most deadly suicide bombings ever carried out by terror groups.

Since 1981, the most deadly suicide bombing remains the September 11 attack at the twin-tower World Trade Centre in New York in which a total of 2,955 people died. Others include the Hezbollah bombing of United States and French military bases in Lebanon in which 320 died on October 23, 1983, the coordinated bombings of Yazidi communities in Northern Iraq on August 14, 2007, in which an estimated 500 died, the Al Qaeda attacks on Tanzania and Kenya embassies on August 7, 1998 in which 224 died and the Bali bombings carried out by the Jemaah Islamiyah group on October 12, 2002 in which 202 died.

However, sources in Abuja said Nigerians should not panic or feel that the merger of the terror franchises would make life more difficult for the citizens, especially those living in the North Eastern part of the country. They believe that the Nigerian troops and their regional allies will rise up to the occasion. But they were in agreement that the Boko-ISIS merger, while not resulting in immediate daring raids of occupation of Nigerian territory, would surely lead to more of suicide bombers and their use as major operational weapons of choice.

Sources told The Guardian that there is no need for worry as every defence and security personnel in the frontline of the fight against the insurgency is issued with guidance on how to deal with suicide bombers, details will remain confidential for security reasons and will not be available to the public “as any publicity on the modus operandi for tackling the new wave of suicide bombings will be handing your war plans to the enemy. The truth is that there is not much you can do to a suicide bomber unless you stop him before he or she gets kitted for the mission. After all, their whole intention is to be martyred, meaning that to live is to fail in the mission. The greatest weapon against them is for all Nigerians to be vigilant.”

Former Nigerian Police spokesman, Mr Frank Mba, explained in June last year, that international terror organisations use female suicide bombers in attacks because they are less suspicious.

Mba said while answering questions at the National Information Centre that “established international terror organisations use female suicide bombers, the major reason is because women, generally raise fewer suspicion, particularly when there are security layers. If you have been following the trend of terrorism worldwide, you will understand that the use of a female suicide bomber is not new. But, it is a new trend in our own part of the world.”

Mba noted that as part of the new counter-terrorism strategy developed to address the new trend in the country, “we are developing counter-terrorism strategies to deal with that. By our rules of engagement and by our culture too, male security operatives generally are not allowed to search females. You will see increase in female security personnel on roads and in other places where stop and search exercises are being carried out. Nigerians should be prepared to see more female police officers, bomb disposal experts, DSS operatives and soldiers in combat operations.”

Mba, therefore, appealed to parents and local authorities across the country to support efforts to stamp out street hawking by young girls, particularly among minors.

Coordinator of the Centre, Mr Mike Omeri, said “this trend of using young people clearly shows that there is something wrong with main recruitment arm of the insurgents. Citizens are becoming more aware and so the tendency is to recruit those who do not know what they are doing, young people as young as 10 years. Boko Haram is so deadly and this underscores the seriousness of the campaign that our country is engaged in order to flush out the insurgents.”

The most sophisticated means for detecting and tackle suicide bombings is the use of Ultra Wide Band (UWB). With UWB, radio signals can penetrate nearby surfaces while reflecting through surfaces that are farther away. This capability would allow radar-type applications to detect objects, such as people or weapons, behind walls or under surfaces suicide vest. This can be achieved by using electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that we already know can fry a circuit and make it non-functional.

An UWB can detect a suicide bomber trying to enter a gathering point and EMP will neutralize his or her suicide belt while security can come in and pick him up. With the UWB and EMP at work, the bomber will try his or her level best to detonate the device but it will be worthless and the culprit will be apprehended.

The UWBs are also used at toll-gates in developed countries as they detect vehicles carrying any suspicious material or person. And when it is synchronized with law enforcing mobiles, they can pursue such vehicles and stop them before they can wreak havoc. But the problem is cost. In an era of dwindling resources, how can this be a priority?



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