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TematicheAfrica SubsaharianaUnderstanding female suicide bombers

Understanding female suicide bombers


Sunday, June 8th 2014, surroundings of Gombe, nord est Nigeria. Government soldiers are looking for a woman suspected of conducting an attack against a military compound. As soon as the soldiers approach  her she makes detonate the explosive devices hidden underneath her clothes. This is the first case of a female kamikaze in the north of Nigeria after five years of Islamic insurrection led by Boko Haram. However, it will not be remained the only one.

On 27th and 28th of June,four other girls carried out suicide attacks in the city of Kano, north Nigeria, killing dozens of people and injuring many more. Experts and authorities   do not rule out that these suicide bombers were girls previously kidnapped by Boko Haram, who were brainwashed by their own kidnappers.

The phenomenon of female kamikazes had never occurred before in Africa, while it has been really diffused in other conflict zones like Chechnya, Sri Lanka, Palestine and Pakistan, where many women sacrificed their lives for nationalist or religious causes.

In Palestine, during the second Intifada, many Palestinian women, at least 67, decided to immolate their selves against the occupation of their own land by Israel. Their targets were not only the Israeli soldiers but also public buildings and  crowded buses. Doing this, they became “shahidates”, martyrs  in Arabic. Wafa Idris was the first one. On 27 January 2002 she blew herself up in the city center of Gerusalem, killing one people and injuring more than one hundred.

Even more emblematic are the “chadiki”, the Chechen counterpart of Palestinian martyrs. These female warriors linked their names to Caucasian terrorism for the first time after the assault against Doubrovka theatre in Moscow in 2002. Inside the commando, which was composed by fifty Chechen terrorists, there were nineteen women, veiled, dressed in black and equipped with explosive belts. All the members of this commando died during the controversial blitz of Russian special forces, which cost also the lives of 169  spectators. Those women were rapidly nicknamed “ The Black Widows”, due to the fact that the majority of them wanted to revenge their family members, especially their husbands, killed by Russians. In the following ten years, these “black widows “ would have sacrificed their lives all across Russian and Caucasian Republics.

Female suicide bombers hit also in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Since 2011, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, that is the Pakistani fringe of Talibans, have claimed the responsibility for many acts of terrors, caused by women dressed with burqas ,in order to better hide explosive devices. Beyond the border, in Afghanistan, women were employed as kamikazes to achieve the talibans’ goals , carrying out suicide attacks all across the country. In 2012, a female suicide bomber blew herself up on the road to Kabul airport, killing dozens of people. This attack was launched in response to a film which was considered offensive for all the Islamic world.

Kurdistan is the last Muslim country in this list where female kamikazes’ strikes have taken place. PKK, an organisation that has been fighting in order to establish a Kurdish nation-state, has always encouraged women to enlist among its ranks. Installed in Turkey, Siria, Irak and Iran, Pkk has also support  the female emancipation in an extremely traditional  and male centred society. In some cases, the women who joined this group have not hesitated to recur to suicide attacks for the cause of Kurdish nation. On 30 June 1996, the first female suicide bomber associated with the PKK in turkey killed six Turkish soldiers and wounded an additional thirty. She had a suicide bombing belt strapped to her stomach and built in such a way to suggest that she was pregnant. A total of eleven attacks out of fifteen were conducted in this way. Only 25 percent of PKK kamikazes were men. The reason why this organisation has recurred to women more than men for this kind of operations is due to the fact that women were better able to slip past Turkish security measures.

As said before, this kind of fighters have not operated only among Islamic extremist organisations. They have also fought for laic groups like the Tamil Tigers. These insurgents played the major role in the civil  war against the Sri Lanka government that lasted for more than twenty five years. Many women participated to the conflict against Sri Lankan army. Like their male comrades, some of them were used to carry out suicide attacks . The most famous one was delivered  on 21 may 1991. The Indian prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, was the victim of a female suicide bomber while he was visiting a village in the state of Tamil Nadu. At 10:10, a woman, later identified as Thenmozhi Rajaratnam, approached him in public and greeted him. She then bent down to touch his feet and detonated the devices under her dress. The explosion killed Rajiv Gandhi, his assassin and at least 25 people. The assassination was caught on film through the lens of a local photographer.

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