(CNSNews.com) – As the terrorist carnage in northern Nigeria continues, eyewitness and police accounts of two deadly bombings over the weekend raise concerns that the Islamist group believed responsible may be using young girls, wittingly or otherwise, as suicide bombers.
Some reports estimated that a girl as young as ten was fitted with a bomb that killed at least 19 people in a busy marketplace in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, on Saturday.
The explosion reportedly occurred when civilian security guards searched a young girl at the market’s entrance.
“The girl was about ten years old and I doubt if she actually knew what was strapped to her body,” a security man who witnessed the incident, Ashiru Mustapha, told the French news agency AFP.
A day later, a double suicide bombing at a market in Potiskum, Yobe state, was attributed to two young females, one of whom was again estimated by one eyewitness to be between ten and 15 years old. The second bomber was said to be in her early 20s. Four people were killed, along with the two alleged bombers.
Accounts differed, but one eyewitness’ description of the younger girl’s reaction to the initial blast suggests she may have been unaware of what was happening.
“The second bomber was terrified by the explosion and she tried to dash across the road but she also exploded,” the man told AFP.
Police suspected the bombs may have been remotely detonated.
More than 200 teenage girls abducted by Boko Haram from a secondary school in Chibok in north-eastern Nigeria eight months ago remain missing.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau threatened early on to use the girls – most of whom were Christians, according to the authorities – as sex slaves or to “marry” them off. In a video message last November, Shekau said they had converted to Islam and been “married.”
There have been other abductions since Chibok, along with numerous terror attacks ascribed to the group.
‘Searing the conscience of the world’
The latest suicide bombings occurred shortly after a major Boko Haram attack in the town of Baga in Borno state, where estimates of the death toll ranged from several hundred to 2,000.
Citing the bombings and the Baga attack, U.N. Children's Fund executive director Anthony Lake said Sunday the images of bloodshed from Nigeria “should be searing the conscience of the world.”
“A young girl sent to her death with a bomb strapped to her chest in Maiduguri,” Lake said. “And lest we forget, more than two hundred girls stolen from their families, still lost. Words alone can neither express our outrage nor ease the agony of all those suffering from the constant violence in northern Nigeria”
Lake said the images of the latest atrocities “should galvanize effective action. For this cannot go on.”
Pointing to the tender age of the alleged Maiduguri bomber, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned “this depraved act at the hands of Boko Haram terrorists.”
“The United Nations stands ready to assist the Nigerian government and all affected neighboring states in bringing an end to the violence and to alleviate the suffering of civilians with all available means and resources,” Ban’s spokesman said in a statement.
On Thursday, a special envoy told the U.N. Security Council that the death toll arising from Boko Haram violence in the three worst-hit Nigerian states was “staggering.”
“The civilian populations in the three northeastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe have over the past six months been subjected to intense including razing, civilian assassinations and other attacks and systematic human rights violations, settlements, kidnappings, suicide bombing,” Ibn Chambas reported.
“The death toll of this vicious violence, most of which has been attributed to Boko Haram, is staggering, and counter-insurgency measures have failed to provide adequate protection of civilians.”
‘Responsibility to protect’
The Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans (CANAN), a U.S.-based group, says it is considering appealing to the U.N. to invoke its “responsibility to protect” doctrine to respond to the violence in northern Nigeria.
“It is becoming clearer and clearer that the Nigerian governments, both federal and states, are failing resoundingly in their responsibility to protect innocent lives,” said CANAN executive director Laolu Akande.
The “responsibility to protect” concept was endorsed by U.N. member states in 2005 as part of a broad package of reforms of the world body.
It states that governments must protect their people from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.
If a government fails to do so, the international community can take steps including the dispatch of a U.N. envoy, the imposition of Security Council sanctions and the threat of International Criminal Court prosecution. If unsuccessful, those steps can be followed as a last resort by Security Council-approved military action.
Boko Haram is suspected to have links to Somalia’s al-Shabaab and to al-Qaeda’s North Africa affiliate, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Its stated founding mission was to oppose non-Islamic education but in its violent jihad it also demands universal enforcement of Islamic law in Nigeria, 12 of whose northern states are already under shari’a.
Christians make up roughly 40 percent of Nigeria’s population of 150 million.
In late 2013 the State Department designated Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization, after coming under fire from U.S. lawmakers for almost two years for not having done so.
After the mass abduction of schoolgirls from Chibok, the administration deployed a State Department-led interagency group, including a handful of military personnel from U.S. Africa Command, to the region to aid the effort to find and free them.
According to the State Department the U.S. has shared intelligence with Nigeria, provided military equipment and humanitarian aid to those affected by the conflict, began training an army battalion, advised on strategic communications, and held high-level discussions on tackling the threat.