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SPOTLIGHT: Underage girls who refused to detonate bombs strapped to them by Boko Haram


Photograph by Adam Ferguson

After the capture of the Sambisa Forest on Christmas Day 2016, the rate of suicide bomb attacks in Borno State dramatically increased — often carried out by teenage girls, most of whom were too young to even know what the insurgency is all about.

The New York Times tracked and caught up with 18 of such girls who were deployed as suicide bombers but, for one reason or another, they survived.

All of them narrated how they were captured by the insurgents and forced, or sometimes brainwashed, into strapping a suicide belt around their waists and detonating it in crowded areas.

“The girls didn’t want to kill anyone,” the NYT reported. “They walked in silence for a while, the weight of the explosives around their waists pulling down on them as they fingered the detonators and tried to think of a way out.”

Photograph by Adam Ferguson

“I don’t know how to get this thing off me,” Hadiza, 16, recalled saying as she headed out on her mission.

“What are you going to do with yours?” she asked the 12-year-old girl next to her, who was also wearing a bomb.

“I’m going to go off by myself and blow myself up,” the girl responded hopelessly.

Hadiza had been kidnapped by Boko Haram earlier this year, and while in the camp where they were being held hostage, a fighter approached her, asking for her hand in marriage. She rejected him.

“You’ll regret this,” the fighter told her.

A few days later, she was brought before a Boko Haram leader. He told her she would be going to the happiest place she could imagine. Hadiza thought she was going home. He was talking about heaven.

They came for her at night, she said, grabbing a suicide belt and attaching it to her waist. The fighters then sent her and the 12-year-old girl out on foot, alone, telling them to detonate the bombs at a camp for Nigerian civilians who have fled the violence Boko Haram has inflicted on the region.

“I knew I would die and kill other people, too,” Hadiza recalled. “I didn’t want that.”

According to the report, Boko Haram militants have carried out more than twice as many suicide bombings so far in 2017 than they did in all of 2016.

Photograph by Adam Ferguson

All of the girls that were interviewed recounted how armed militants forcibly tied suicide belts to their waists, or thrust bombs into their hands, before pushing them toward crowds of people.

Most were told that their religion compelled them to carry out the orders. And all of them resisted, preventing the attacks by begging ordinary citizens or the authorities to help them.

Aisha, 15, fled her home with her father and 10-year-old brother, but Boko Haram caught them. The fighters killed her father and, soon after, she watched them strap a bomb to her brother, squeeze him between two militants on a motorbike and speed away.

The two militants returned without him, cheering. Her little brother had blown up soldiers at a barracks, she learned. The militants told her not to cry for him. “He killed wicked people,” they told her.

Later, they tied a bomb on her, too, instructing her to head toward the same barracks.

Photograph by Adam Ferguson

Like some of the other girls, Aisha said she had considered walking off to an isolated spot and pressing the detonator, far from other people, to avoid hurting anyone else. Instead, she approached the soldiers and persuaded them to remove the explosives from her body, delicately.

“I told them, ‘My brother was here and killed some of your men,’” she said. “My brother wasn’t sensible enough to know he didn’t have to do it. He was only a small child.”

Other girls, whose full names are also being withheld out of concern for their security, had similar stories of terror and defiance.

So far this year, Boko Haram militants have carried out more than twice as many suicide bombings than they did in all of 2016.

You can read the full story here.

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