ESCAPE FROM TERROR
They had explosives strapped to their bodies and were sent on a suicide mission by Boko Haram, but one of the teenage girls was not ready to die
‘Some people see me as part of Boko Haram. But others see me as a hero’
MAIMUMA shuffled down the road, trying hard to walk normally, trying not to let on something was horribly wrong. Sweating and terrified, the teenager began to sob while the detonator box strapped to her waist under her clothes radiated heat.
The explosives attached to her body were heavy too.
The 14-year-old didn’t want to hurt anyone, much less kill strangers who had the misfortune of being around her, but her body was no longer her own.
Her slender frame had been taken from her, transforming her from a young girl into a crude weapon – an unwilling suicide bomber capable of carrying out unimaginable horror.
She was powerless to remove the bomb, knowing it would explode if she tried.
Her sobbing grew louder, attracting the attention of passers-by – but once she told them about the bomb they fled as fast as they could.
Eventually soldiers arrived – men like the ones Maimuma had been ordered to kill along with herself.
They approached her cautiously, shouting at her to keep her hands up. One of the soldiers began to remove the explosives and the red-hot detonator. After what seemed like an eternity she was free – and the bomb was carried away to be detonated out of harm’s way.
This shocking story is one of several told to the New York Times by girls who have fallen into the clutches of the Nigeria-based terror organisation Boko Haram.
Since 2011 the group has used nearly 250 girls and women as suicide bombers.
The youngest of these was a pair of girls just seven years old – and they were killed along with several others in an attack on a marketplace in December 2016.
SINCE the start of this year, more than 110 children have been used as suicide bombers – at least 76 of them girls under the age of 15 years. One girl blew herself up along with a baby strapped to her back, according to United Nations reports.
Maimuma, who was kidnapped by Boko Haram, is one of the girls who refused to be forced into marriage by the terrorists – and so were used as suicide bombers instead.
Another girl, Hadiza ( 16), was kidnapped by the group earlier this year. When she rejected a marriage “proposal” from one of the fighters she was told, “You’ll regret this”.
She was then brought before one of the group’s leaders and told she would be going to “the happiest place imaginable”.
Hadiza hoped she would be freed so she could return home but they were talking about heaven.
Many of the surviving girls have similar stories of being promised paradise for fulfilling their deadly missions, which almost always saw them being dropped off along the side of a road while Boko Haram fighters watched from a safe distance as they walked,
laden with explosives, to their targets.
Hadiza didn’t want to kill anyone. Her 12-year-old companion, she says, appeared to have given up hope of surviving the ordeal.
When Hadiza asked her what she thought they should do as they walked along the road, the girl simply said, “I’m going to go off by myself and blow myself up”.
As they approached the refugee camp, which was guarded by soldiers, Hadiza made the girl wait a distance away while she approached them and explained what they’d been forced to do.
The soldiers removed the bombs from the girls and Hadiza was eventually reunited with her father.
FOR these girls, being rescued from being a weapon doesn’t always guarantee a happy ending. Maimuma and others like her have been reluctant to tell anyone, even close family or friends, that they were forced to be suicide bombers, fearing they could be arrested for working with the terrorists.
Children – especially girls – are now used so frequently in terror attacks by Boko Haram that authorities are regularly warning people to be on the lookout for girl bombers in the regions where the group operates.
In Maiduguri, the city where Boko Haram was founded, there are billboards with the words “Stop Terrorism” and a picture of an angry-looking girl with explosives strapped to her chest.
Authorities have begun campaigns telling parents not to give their children to Boko Haram for use as bombers, as well as circulating videos telling bombers they can surrender.
These campaigns, the New York Times says, show the bombers and their families as Boko Haram collaborators who either support the terrorists or who were brainwashed or drugged into doing so.
“I thought to myself, ‘Why should I be arrested for being forced to carry a bomb?’” Maimuma said. “I decided I was going tell everyone.”
Now Maimuma and other survivors are trying to return to their normal teenage lives in Maiduguri. They’re keen to return to school and dream of becoming doctors or teachers or lawyers.
Maimuma knows there are people who think she’s a terrorist collaborator but she knows she isn’t one. “Some people see me as part of Boko Haram. But others see me as a hero.”
ABOVE: Nigerian soldiers visit a camp after forcing out Boko Haram terrorists. The group, which kidnapped 276 Nigerian schoolgirls three years ago, has left death and destruction in their wake not only in Nigeria, but also in Niger, Chad and Cameroon.