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Boko Haram Uses Girls As Suicide Bombers, Reports Say

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

A chilling development in the ongoing insurgency in northeast Nigeria. Islamist militants there known as Boko Haram are apparently utilizing a new type of suicide bomber - young girls. NPR Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is in Accra and joins us. Ofeibea, good morning.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So tell us more about this phenomenon of using children - and as I understand it girls, little girls - to detonate explosives.

QUIST-ARCTON: Saturday's bombing, and that was in Maidurguri - that is the metropolis of the Northeast, the main heart of the troubled area of Nigeria and where Boko Haram itself was created. We're told that a 10-year-old girl with explosives strapped to her body blew herself up. But, Renee, what we don't know of course is whether this was by choice - 10 years old, probably not. The day later, Sunday, we're told that either young women or young girls also blew themselves up, this time in Potiskum, in a neighboring state.

So Nigerians are saying, what is going on? Why are women being used? And the answer is probably because young girls, women are not seen as violent. So they can be slipped in whether they've agreed to do it or not. And they can become the new mules of these insurgents who are really stepping up their campaign of violence, their offensive.

MONTAGNE: And this comes in the context, when you speak of stepping up the campaign, of a very deadly attack on another town there.

QUIST-ARCTON: Yes, indeed, Renee - Baga, which is on the shores of Lake Chad. Its nearby military base, which was meant to be a regional military base in the fight against terrorism, was attacked first a week ago, Saturday. We're told hundreds of people were killed, corpses littering the bush. The insurgents came back midweek to finish off whoever was left, sending those people fleeing. This is part of this relentless campaign. Every day a new attack, that Nigerians are saying, what is going on?

MONTAGNE: So what are the Nigerian military and the government doing about all of this?

QUIST-ARCTON: President Goodluck Jonathan is busy campaigning for re-election next month. You know, Renee, he has had time, Nigerians say, to condemn the Charlie Hebdo killings in France, but the past week of relentless attacks in Nigeria, he has said nothing about. But he campaigned in the center part of the country, in Jos, over the weekend. And we're told that one of the campaign vehicles was attacked, and people were shouting, bad luck Jonathan, bad luck Jonathan. What are you doing about this?

MONTAGNE: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. Thanks very much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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