By BosNewsLife Africa Service with reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
ABUJA, NIGERIA (BosNewsLife)-- Islamist militant group Boko Haram increasingly uses young girls to carry out suicide bombings and hundreds of thousands of people, including Christians, remain displaced within Nigeria Christian aid workers and officials said Tuesday January 13.
Over the weekend a girl as young as 10 set off explosives at a market in the northeastern city of Maiduguri killing at least 20, according to authorities. Soon after, two others detonated bombs near a mobile-phone market in the town of Potiskum, killing at least seven and injuring 48 people, Yobe state Governor Ibrahim Gaidam added in a statement.
Last month 13-year-old Zaharau Babangida refused to set off explosives she was carrying after being sent by her father to camps run by the Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram, which translates as "Western education is sinful".
Babangida was detained by police on December 10 after two other female bombers killed at least six people at a textile market in northern Nigeria’s largest city Kano.
More attacks are expected as at least 191 people are known to have been abducted by Boko Haram fighters last month in the remote village of Gumsuri, the group’s largest mass kidnapping since Chibok where hundreds of Christian schoolgirls were taken.
Many of the girls have probably been brainwashed by militants into committing the attacks, analysts say. Boko Haram itself has said the girls had been "converted to Islam."
Earlier on November 25 two suicide bombers blew themselves up at a bustling market in Maiduguri, killing at least 45, several reports said. And in a repeat of that attack, two female suicide bombers again detonated bombs at the central Maiduguri market on December 1, killing dozens, according to witnesses and officials. The same day, Boko Haram fighters staged a pre-dawn raid on government, police and military buildings in Damaturu.
Fresh revelations about female suicide attacks come while Nigeria's military has tried to downplay reports that as many as 2,000 people died in last week's assaults on the northeastern Nigerian border town of Baga, saying initial evidence, including aerial surveillance, shows the toll didn’t exceed 150.
Rights investigators maintain it has been difficult to independently investigate the exact number of deaths due to the volatile security situation.
Aid and advocacy group Barnabas Fund told BosNewsLife it was especially concerned about ant-Christian assaults, which killed many in recent weeks, including on January 1 when a suicide bomber killed eight Christians guarding a New Year’s Day Prayer service
at a church in Gombe.
"Believed to be a member of Boko Haram, the bomber had an improvised explosive attached to his belt that detonated during a dispute with the eight Christians who were guarding the concrete barrier built to protect the church meeting," Barnabas Fund added.
Earlier attacks against Christians were reported on December 29 in the remote town of Kautikari in Nigeria's troubled north-east killing 15 people who were leaving a church meeting, Barnabas Fund told BosNewsLife.
"Believed to be a member of Boko Haram, the bomber had an improvised explosive attached to his belt that detonated during a dispute with the eight Christians who were guarding the concrete barrier built to protect the church meeting," the group said.
It came a month after the Christian-majority town of Shani in Borno state was reportedly raided by roughly 30 Boko Haram militants riding motorcycles, as part of the group's campaign to establish a strict Islamic state in Africa's largest oil producing nation.
Local residents claimed the men rode through the town throwing bombs into houses and firing shots at fleeing residents. The police station was also destroyed in the November 29 attack, making it difficult to verify the death toll, according to Barnabas Fund investigators.
A day earlier, a bomb rocked a central mosque in Kano, northern Nigeria’s largest city, killing 120 people.
Ongoing violence had led to a major refugee crisis, said Barnabas Fund, which works in the region. "The Islamist group, Boko Haram, continues to launch violent, anti-Christian assaults across Nigeria leaving roughly 700,000 people internally displaced and 141,800 refugees stranded in neighbouring countries."
Amid the turmoil, Christian aid workers urged prayers amid concerns that fellow believers uprooted by the conflict may never been able to return home, or see their kidnapped children.
"Cry out to the Lord for our brothers and sisters in Nigeria who are facing constant danger," Barnabas Fund said, referring also to the many refugees. "As the violence has begun to spread from Nigeria into Cameroon and Niger, please continue to pray for Christians and others who have suffered under Boko Haram. Pray that the Lord will deliver His people and halt the advancement of Boko Haram’s rule."
The ongoing clashes violence has complicated the reelection bid by President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian.
With presidential elections scheduled in 2015, analysts say Jonathan’s ruling People’s Democratic Party faces what may be its stiffest challenge since it came to power at the end of military rule in 1999.
Opposition parties merged last year to form the All Progressives Congress (APC), amid ongoing pressure on Jonathan to improve security.
The APC has attacked Jonathan’s record on security claiming it as evidence that his government has failed. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reportedly expressed outrage at attacks following last week's reported massacre in Baga.
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