Twin bombings in Kerawa, northern Cameroon, took 19 to 20 lives and wounded 140 people on Thursday. The town, on the border with Nigeria, has become a focal point for attacks from ISIS-affiliated terror group Boko Haram.
Reuters reports that two separate bombs targeted a crowded market in Kerawa and a military facility. The military facility was a housing barrack for Cameroon Special Forces troops who are currently deployed to the northern border to fight Boko Haram. While no group has taken responsibility for the attacks, most experts believe Boko Haram–or the “Islamic State West Africa Province,” as they have renamed themselves since pledging allegiance to the jihadist organization–orchestrated the attack.
Reuters notes that a government official testified to witnesses that they saw the perpetrators, and that both were women who themselves died in the attack. Female suicide bombers have become a staple of Boko Haram, particularly after a series of mass kidnappings of girls and women that began in 2014. These women are often brainwashed and manipulated for use as sex slaves, cooks, and suicide bombers.
The BBC reports that authorities have been diligent in attempting to keep Boko Haram terrorists out of the country, but with so many Nigerian refugees crossing the border, the situation has become increasingly difficult to control. The two women involved in the attack are believed to have entered Cameroon disguised as refugees themselves.
Aid agencies estimate the refugee crisis in Nigeria and neighboring countries triggered by Boko Haram to be staggering, with almost 800,000 displaced people across the region in the past two months. More than two million people have reportedly been displaced, though many have returned to their war-torn homes, or at least to Nigeria itself from Cameroon and Chad. In the past month, Cameroon alone has returned almost 10,000 people to Nigeria after processing them and ensuring they were not affiliated with Boko Haram. Cameroon announced in July that, in the national interests of the nation, it would begin the repatriation process, precisely to avoid giving refuge to Boko Haram members.
Despite the tragedy of the recent attack, Cameroon’s military spokesman argues that the attacks themselves are a sign that the group is being forced to change tactics. “They find it hard these days, coming face-to-face with our forces. … What they do now is come in from Nigeria, attack border areas, and then run back to Nigeria,” said spokesman Col. Didier Badjeck.
The explanation echoes Nigerian military analysis of the discovery of Boko Haram jihadists in Lagos, a new development. Lagos, in southwestern Nigeria, is at the opposite end of the country of Borno, the northeastern Muslim state from which Boko Haram originated. Nigerian military experts told media they believe the presence of Boko Haram in that city is not an indication that they are expanding, but that Nigerian military efforts have forced them to seek refuge in increasingly unlikely places in the hopes of not being found.
Boko Haram still enjoys a strong presence in Borno, however. The group attacked yet another village in the state on Wednesday, killing five. Nigerian law enforcement authorities note that the attack was ultimately thwarted, however, and the village remains intact. Most successful Boko Haram attacks result in the complete razing of villages, mass abductions of women, and mass murders of men.