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Boko Haram Ramps Up Attacks Despite Effort To Repel Them


Let's turn to Nigeria where we have reported on the extremist group Boko Haram and its use of women, often young girls, as suicide bombers. This seems to be a tactic the group is increasingly turning to, even as military forces from several countries in the region are on the offensive trying to defeat the Islamist group. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton joins us now from Lagos, Nigeria's largest city. Ofeibea, good morning.


GREENE: Can you just look back for us and remind us when Boko Haram started using young women as suicide bombers?

QUIST-ARCTON: David, it's got to be a year, 18 months ago. And many people say it was a cynical ploy by Boko Haram, especially in northern Nigeria, which is majority Muslim because the security forces were reluctant to search young women and girls wearing hijabs, you know, the full Muslim traditional religious clothing, and especially children. So it was much easier to get young girls into the sort of areas where bombs have been detonated. The authorities are now saying we are going to have to search girls and young women because they could be wearing these weapons strapped to them.

Just last week in Bauchi in northeastern Nigeria, apparently a teenaged girl suspected of planning a suicide attack was beaten to death by a crowd and then her body was set on fire. So it's not just the security forces who are getting suspicious, but ordinary people, too.

GREENE: Well, Ofeibea, you said we don't know exactly who these girls and young women are, but some have wondered if these girls might be among the hundreds of those kidnapped by Boko Haram. You know, they have them in captivity. Many of us remember them being taken from that school in the village of Chibok. I mean, could it be them?

QUIST-ARCTON: And nobody can really verify or answer these questions because Boko Haram - it's very hard to lay your hands on Boko Haram. But yes, there is great fear and, of course, agonizing by families, not only about the Chibok schoolgirls who were abducted now almost a year ago, David, April 2014. Some people say, yes, the girls who are being used and the young women being used for these bombings may have been picked. But nobody is entirely sure.

GREENE: Who might they be if it's not these girls?

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, other experts and specialists who follow Boko Haram really closely say that often, the group establishes camps, that including entire families. And these families, including children, are listening to preaching, are listening to their word and that some of these young women and girls may be either young widows or Boko Haram fighters or children of Boko Haram fighters who've been indoctrinated, you know, to seek revenge in attacks against the Nigerian military and the government for the deaths of their husbands or their fathers or their brothers. But again, very difficult to verify.

GREENE: That's NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton speaking to us on the line from Lagos, Nigeria. Ofeibea, thank you.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.