TGS Consulta



How to defeat Boko Haram suicide Bombers.
By TGS Counter Terrorism Expert David Otto

31st October 2015 10:15pm

According to the Global Terrorist Tactics Statistics[1], suicide bombing as of August 2015 has been used almost every 1.29 days, killing 1,294 and has injured 2,386. The success of the current military strategy in Northern Nigeria and Northern Cameroon, against Boko Haram/ ISWAP is seriously being undermined by the group's operational tactics of employing suicide bombings with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) almost every 48 hours. I specifically mentioned Nigeria and Cameroon and left out Niger and Chad not out of disrespect but simply because over the past 30 days, as of 1st October 2015, the Country Threat Index of most dangerous countries in the world puts Nigeria and Cameroon on 5th and 10th position respectively alongside Syria, Iraq , Afghanistan and Libya… [2]My efforts to excuse Chad and Niger Republic should not be misconstrued as a low threat indicator because recent suicide bombings with the use of IEDs in these two states indicates seriousness of suicide bombing in the region in general.
The use of suicide bombing has a long history from 20th Century Russia, Japan and Sri Lanka by the now defeated Tamil Tigers.In recent times, this tactic has been used as a unique type of human weapon by terrorist groups like Hamas, the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party or PKK, Al-Qaida and ISIL as a last resort and a desperate measure to inflict maximum casualty on their adversary particularly where every other strategy including coordinated assault and Guerrilla Warfare has not worked towards achieving their prescribed goals and objectives. Some groups like Hamas have used suicide bombing to penetrate well protected areas that are vulnerable to human access due to perimeter fencing defences against Vehicular Bound Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs).
For any group to succeed in using this method, they need volunteers, a society to shade them, materials for making IEDs, experts to train potential candidates, and experts to make body worn or other related IEDs.
Most recently and particularly for the past six months, suicide bombing has become a common tool by Boko Haram especially immediately after the military base was transferred from Abuja to Maiduguri by President Buhari on his inauguration speech of May 29th 2015[3]. His promise of military first and other soft approach later may have triggered fear within the leadership structure of Boko Haram that a change of tactics was necessary.
From all evidence, Boko Haram selected perpetrators are usually vulnerable boys and girls some as young as 10 years old. Their targets are often unsuspecting civilians and military personnel. There has been a recent increase in attacks around places of worship and markets locations. It is important to note that elderly men and women have also been used as suicide bombers in many occasions making it difficult for experts to build a concrete profile of a typical suspect. Equally, crowded places irrespective of whether it is a place of worship or market location has been targeted by suicide bombers bent on causing maximum casualty against their target audience.
The significant use of vulnerable girls and women, including the elderly as suicide bombers is very concerning. On the one hand, it indicates that the military is inflicting some serious punches on Boko Haram as promised by Buhari on his inauguration speech. On the other hand it shows that Boko Haram is desperate and losing man power which is also thanks to the recent military strategy. To militate against this military success, Boko Haram has now specialised in using the most vulnerable individuals as suicide bombers.
The fact is that suicide bombing is an expensive strategy because it affects the man power of the group that uses it and there is a natural difficulty of getting volunteers to take the cause either voluntarily or by coercion. Boko Haram seems comfortable getting willing volunteers for this tactics and that itself is a huge worry for everyone looking at the end game of the sect’s activities.

What counter measures can be used?

Measures to counter suicide bombing and bombers are complex because the perpetrators are faceless and mostly unsuspecting individuals. These perpetrators can easily blend into the local community and they wear no uniforms to indicate their intent. In the Republic of Chad and Cameroon measures like dressing down or even banning full face veils has been implemented[4]. Recent spiral in attacks using suicide bombers in Chad and Cameroon indicates that this measure has done little to deter perpetrators.
Community based awareness programmes should be flooded into affected and vulnerable regions via varied methods using experts to create public awareness. Since trust in an issue, affected states must rebuild and strengthen their intelligence based trust with the communities that provide space for suicide bombers to infiltrate and blend. There is an urgent need for the Nigerian government and other regional states to implement a regional counter IED material acquisition strategy, working in collaboration with public and private businesses dealing with these materials or logistics of same. This will ensure that materials used to make IEDs and VBIEDs which is readily available in the open market for genuine reasons, are comprehensively policed using existing methods that have yielded success elsewhere.

The problem of not having a good and reliable database system in most of these states affected by Boko Haram activities will have a major effect in achieving a milestone of success but it is high time for our leaders to ensure that we have a regional database in Africa. It will take time but the framework must be started now if not already. Without community awareness, policing these materials through a regional database, the use of suicide bombing and IEDs will continue to flourish and cause more havoc to innocent citizens. To win any battle or war, the national intelligence estimate of all possibilities must be right from the onset. That is what determines the order of battle or defeat timetable.
Note: The author reminds readers that mitigating efforts against suicide bombers and IEDs or VBIEDs is only one strategy against many in defeating a terrorist group like Boko Haram or any other terrorist group. Other counter measures must work in complement to achieve different goals.

David Otto
TGS Counter Terrorism and Organised Crime Expert.

[1] Global Terrorist Tactic Stats as of 11 August 2015 at Http://
[2] 10 Most Dangerous Countries; Country Threat Index (CTI) Http://
[4] Chad Bans face veils , also see Cameroon