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World

Female Suicide Bombers Sent By Boko Haram Blamed For Attack In Nigeria

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

An attack in Nigeria this week that killed nearly 60 people was still less severe than it might've been because one of the teenage girls who was supposed to have been a suicide bomber removed her vest when she spotted a family member in the camp that was the target. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton joins us now from her base in Dakar, Senegal. Hello, Ofeibea.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Greetings.

SHAPIRO: Begin by telling us more about what happened in this attack.

QUIST-ARCTON: We're told that two young women apparently blew themselves up in this refugee camp in Dikwa in northeastern Nigeria that houses 50,000 people. And that's just a fraction of the people who have been driven from their homes but - because of Boko Haram attacks. Now, apparently these two young women went ahead, although a third woman - young woman, a teen, we're told - decided - and it's a pretty brave decision - that she was not going to carry out the orders to blow herself up. And we're told that's because her father was in the camp, and she was afraid to blow herself up and possibly blow her father up but also frightened about going against that the instructions of the men who brought her to the camp and deployed her as a potential suicide bomber.

SHAPIRO: Do you know what authorities have been able to learn from this girl who decided not to detonate her suicide vest?

QUIST-ARCTON: That apparently she was one among thousands being held captive for months by the extremists. And, Ari, there are still unanswered questions and details that the authorities are hoping to learn. Have these women been radicalized? Have they been terrorized? Have they been traumatized? And is that why they are carrying out these suicide operations? Increasingly we're seeing young women, women, even children being deployed as suicide bombers. Why? Because it's easy for them to conceal possible suicide vests or belts under, you know, very loose gowns that a lot of Muslim women wear in northeastern Nigeria. But those are the sorts of details that the authorities are hoping this young woman will be able to give them.

SHAPIRO: You know, just a couple of months ago on this program, we heard Nigeria's president say - and this was a quote - technically we have won the war against Boko Haram. Clearly, that is not entirely true.

QUIST-ARCTON: What the authorities have managed to do in Nigeria's army after initial crushing defeats by Boko Haram is they have managed to push the insurgents out of towns. They no longer hold territory. They no longer hold towns and villages. But what Boko Haram has now resorted to is these guerrilla attacks, these hit-and-run raids or using women or girls as suicide bombers, which is causing many, many deaths, perhaps not in the same way, but perhaps we're not seeing people being abducted in their hundreds and in their thousands. But plenty of women and children, men and boys have been abducted in the past, so perhaps this young woman got away, as Boko Haram might see it, but there will be 10 more that they can deploy as suicide bombers, so they're certainly not history yet.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton speaking with us from Dakar, Senegal. Thank you, Ofeibea.

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