Recent attacks on civilians in Nigeria renew a grisly debate: Is Boko Haram the world’s deadliest terrorist group or should ISIS bear that odious distinction? Though it received relatively little press attention, in 2014 Boko Haram managed to kill far more people in its various rampages than ISIS killed in Iraq and Syria. The extremist group was responsible for 6,644 deaths in 2014, a 300 percent increase from the previous year, according to the Global Terrorism Index. During that time frame, Islamic State killed 6,073.
Altogether Boko Haram’s six-year-old Islamic insurgency has claimed 20,000 lives. It has driven 2.5 million from their homes and broken across Nigeria’s northern borders.
With international antiterrorism efforts focused on the Middle East, Nigeria’s military claimed in December the “technical defeat” of the Islamist terror group because it had driven the militants from key villages. That dislocation however did not prevent Boko Haram from continuing a deadly focus on creating civilian casualties. In January and February, spectacular attacks claimed scores of lives and scorched entire communities.
On Jan. 30 Boko Haram firebombed the northern Nigerian village of Dalori. More than 86 people died, including young children, and 62 others were seriously injured, as insurgents lobbed firebombs into homes and other buildings. Days before, a Boko Haram suicide bomber killed 25 people in the Christian community of Chibok, a town previously devastated by the kidnapping and disappearance of more than 200 schoolgirls in April 2014.
And in the early morning on Feb. 9, two of three teen female suicide bombers who had infiltrated a refugee camp detonated their devices: 58 people were killed and 78 wounded. The victims were among 50,000 people taking refuge in the Dikwa camp after being forced from their homes by Boko Haram. The camp is located 53 miles northeast of Maiduguri, the biggest city in the northeast and the birthplace of the Boko Haram insurgency.
The teenage bomber who did not complete her mission had been outfitted with a booby-trapped vest and sent into Dikwa by Boko Haram to kill as many people as possible. But she tore off the explosives and fled as soon as she was out of sight of her handlers, apparently recognizing that her own parents and siblings were among the refugees. Discovered by local self-defense forces, the girl’s tearful account is one of the first indications that at least some of the child bombers used by Boko Haram are aware that they are about to die and to kill others.
“She said she was scared because she knew she would kill people. But she was also frightened of going against the instructions of the men who brought her to the camp,” said Modu Awami, a self-defense fighter who helped question the girl.
The girl is in custody and has given officials information about other planned bombings that has helped them increase security at the camp, said Satomi Ahmed, chairman of the Borno State Emergency Management Agency. Awami said he had no information about how the girl came to be with Boko Haram.
The extremists have kidnapped thousands of people, and there are fears they are turning some captives into weapons. An army bomb-disposal expert told the Associated Press that some suicide bombs are detonated remotely, so the carriers may not have control over when the bomb goes off.
Many of those killed at Dikwa had returned to Nigeria from Cameroon in January only after Nigerian soldiers declared the area safe. But, advocates from New York’s Human Rights Watch argue, the desire of the government to return the northeast to normalcy cannot be an excuse to press civilians to return home when they feel these areas are not safe.