How the Lake Chad Region Can Put an End to Suicide Bombing Missions

Terror groups use suicide bombing missions as a last resort and a desperate measure to inflict maximum harm on unsuspecting adversaries, particularly where every other strategy, including coordinated assault and guerrilla warfare, has not worked successfully.

The effects of suicide bombings on a hard or soft target can be devastating and traumatic to both victims and the security services tasked to counter the attacks.

Nigeria, a country marred by suicide bombings, is ranked among the world's top 10 most dangerous countries alongside the likes of Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan and Libya, according to the Country Threat Index (CTI).

In spite of the military's efforts to tackle a bloody insurgency by Boko Haram terrorists, attacks have claimed thousands of lives in Nigeria and neighboring countries in the Lake Chad region.

The last suicide bombing mission blamed on the group killed at least 22 people in Nigeria's Borno state on 16 February, days after the military had claimed victory over the insurgents.

Boko Haram and the Lake Chad crisis

Nigeria attacks
Mourners carry for burial the victims of suicide bomb attacks in the regional capital of Maiduguri in northeast Nigeria, on November 16, 2017. Twelve people were killed on November 15 evening after four suicide bombers struck in the regional capital of Maiduguri in northeast Nigeria, rescue workers told AFP. At least 20,000 people have been killed and more than 2.6 million people made homeless in northeast Nigeria since the group launched its insurgency. AFP/Getty Images

Boko Haram's use of suicide bombings with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) almost every 48 hours has devastating consequences on the current hard-line military strategy against the group and its rival factions in the Sahel region.

For the past six months, suicide bombings have become a common tool by some ISIS/Boko Haram factions in the area. Cameroon, Chad and Niger have also been affected, suggesting that suicide bombings continue to be a major terror tactic in the Lake Chad region in general.

Suicide missions have been increasing since Nigeria's military headquarters were transferred from the federal capital Abuja to Maiduguri city in Borno by President Muhammadu Buhari, after he took office in 2015.

His promise of a hard-line military strategy first, and a soft approach later, may have triggered fear and panic within the Boko Haram leadership that a change of tactics was necessary to continue its insurgency.

Book Haram targets are often unsuspecting civilians and military and police personnel. However, there has been a recent increase in attacks around places of worship, social gatherings, markets and other soft locations including Maiduguri University.

Boko Haram-selected perpetrators are usually vulnerable boys and girls, some as young as 10. However, it is important to note that the group has also used elderly men and women as suicide bombers, making it difficult for security experts to build a concrete profile of a typical suicide suspect.

On the other hand, Boko Haram's change of tactics to stay relevant suggests that the military is inflicting some serious blows on the group, whose disorganized insurgency has no permanent tactical pattern.

Cameroon attacks
A wounded person is carried on a stretcher, on January 28, 2016 in Mora, following suicide attacks in the border city of Kerawa, northern Cameroon. A pair of women suicide bombers killed four people and left a trail of injury in north Cameroon Thursday, the second such attacks this week in a region targeted by Nigeria's Boko Haram Islamists. STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images

How Lake Chad can stop suicide attacks

Chances of successfully stopping a suicide bomber are very low, and can sometimes result in the killing of innocent people who may just look suspicious.

Suicide bombers are increasingly becoming unsuspected individuals, ready to die with or without taking others along. These 'death-bound' perpetrators easily blend into the local communities, making it almost impossible to physically profile potential perpetrators.

These complexities make practical and proactive measures to counter suicide bombing and bombers more difficult.

So what can governments do to halt this phenomenon?

In the Republic of Chad and Cameroon, measures like banning full face veils have been implemented, but suicide bombers keep improvising and adapting to security changes. As a result, attacks have continued.

Niger attacks
A soldier stands guard near information stands in a camp for internally displaced people (IDP), home to some 300,000 Nigerian refugees and internally displaced by Boko Haram, in Diffa, Niger, on August 17, 2016, ahead of celebrations for World Humanitarian Day on August 19. BOUREIMA HAMA/AFP/Getty Images

Mitigating efforts against suicide bombers using IEDs or vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIEDs) is only one strategy against groups like Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, and the Islamic State. Other counter-measures to address the underlying ideology must work in tandem to achieve different goals simultaneously.

The first and most effective measure is to tackle the supply chain of vulnerable volunteers recruited by various terrorist groups within local communities. Achieving this requires tackling the fragile environment of extreme poverty, ignorance and lack of care and protection that groups like Boko Haram take advantage of to win the hearts and minds of recruits. A better alternative and a state-promoted counter-narrative to what groups promise will naturally hinder voluntary recruitment and dry up the manpower.

Community-based awareness programs should abound in vulnerable regions using experts to create public awareness on methodologies. Affected states must proactively rebuild and strengthen their intelligence-based trust with the communities that provide space for suicide bombers to infiltrate, blend and recruit.

National and regional states should implement a counter IED precursor material and bomb making equipment acquisition strategy, working in collaboration with public and private businesses dealing with these common materials, equipment or logistics.

Thirdly, the absence of a good and reliable database system in most of these northern Nigeria states affected by Boko Haram activities has a major effect in achieving a milestone of success.

It is high time states authorities worked towards building a comprehensive national regional database in Africa, an initiative that the African Union must champion. This requires time, but a database system is essential for effective information gathering, analysis and sharing.

Until these proactive measures are implemented, the likes of Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab and ISIS will not be defeated and our attempts to score points against suicide attacks will remain reactive and too little too late.

David Otto is the Director of TGS Intelligence Consultants Ltd and the Preventing Radicalisation and Violent Extremism Programme—Step In Step Out (SISO)—based in the United Kingdom. He is also Senior Counter Terrorism Advisor for Global Risk International. Follow Otto on Twitter.