Five teenage female suicide bombers blew themselves up in Maiduguri late Thursday, the second suspected attack by Boko Haram in the northeastern city in the past two weeks.
The targets of the bombers appear to have been the home of a vigilante leader and a mosque where congregants had gathered for evening prayer, the BBC reports. The death toll so far stands at 14 people, including the female bombers, with 39 people injured.
"Tragedy was averted because there was a little delay as the prayers did not commence in earnest and the bomb strapped to the body of the girl went off and killed her," Bashir Ali, a driver who had been near the targeted mosque, told Agence France-Presse.
Maiduguri is the headquarters of Nigeria’s counterinsurgency efforts against Boko Haram. The last attack, in mid-September, killed more than 100 people, making it Nigeria's deadliest terrorist incident since President Muhammadu Buhari took office this past May.
Boko Haram has increasingly used suicide bombers to target civilians, a new strategy that the Nigerian military says shows the group’s desperation. The military has made significant headway in curbing the insurgency, and pushing the Islamist group further into Sambisa Forest.
Addressing the nation on Thursday to mark 55 years of independence, Mr. Buhari called the group “cowards,” and said their bombing tactics are “indicative of their cowardice and desperation.”
The use of the girls as suicide bombings is a stark reminder of how insurgents target vulnerable girls and women. The group has kidnapped an estimated 2,000 females since 2009, according to Human Rights Watch, raping them and subjecting them to forced labor and marriage. These captives include more than 200 schoolgirls from Chibok, whose abduction in April 2014 got global attention via #BringBackOurGirls.
In his inauguration speech in May, Buhari vowed to rescue the Chibok girls. Since then, hundreds of women and children have been rescued. But the Chibok girls still remain in captivity.
The Christian Science Monitor reported in September that even if the Boko Haram leadership is captured, more terrorist attacks may follow. And experts say the government should focus on providing security around towns and villages:
“The increase in bomb blasts in recent times can only be curtailed if our security works with preventive measures not reactive measures,” says Baba Oliver, a security analyst.
Others agree saying that the key issues remain in surveillance and intelligence gathering, something Buhari hopes to address in working with western allies. But many say the efforts need to be community based.
“They should set up mechanisms that people can use to report," says Aisha Yesufu, leader of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign. “Even if it is a simple line that people can call into and report suspicious activities before they actually happen.”
More than 1,000 people have been killed since Buhari was elected in March with a pledge to wipe out Boko Haram, who are held responsible for the death of about 20,000 people since 2009. At least 2.1 million people have been displaced by the fighting.