The effect of suicide bombing on a hard or soft target can be very devastating and traumatic to both victims and the security services tasked to counter it. Since August 2015, suicide bombing has been used worldwide almost every 1.29 days killing more than 1,294 souls and injuring thousands more [1]. In the context of Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorist group in the Sahel region with numerous rival factions, the success of the current hard-line military strategy against these AQ and ISIL affiliated factions is seriously being undermined by the group’s operational tactics of using suicide bombings with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) almost every 48 hours with devastating consequences.

The current Country Threat Index (CTI) over the past 30 days, as of Dec 2016 puts Nigeria in the top 10 of most dangerous countries in the world alongside Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan and Libya… [2] To excuse, regional states like Cameroon, Chad and Niger Republic must not be misconstrued as a low threat indicator because recent suicide bombings with the use of IEDs in these states indicates seriousness of suicide bombing as a major terror tactic in the Lake Chad region in general.

The use of suicide bombing has a long history from 20th Century Russia, Japan and Sri Lanka (defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). In recent times, this tactic has been used as a unique type of human weapon by Boko Haram, Hamas, the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party or PKK, Al-Qaida and ISIL as a last resort; and a desperate measure to inflict maximum casualty on unsuspecting adversaries, particularly where every other strategy including coordinated assault and Guerrilla Warfare has not worked successfully towards achieving their goals and objectives. Groups like ISIL, AQ and Boko Haram continue to use suicide bombers to penetrate well protected areas that are vulnerable to human access but not accessible by other means due to perimeter fencing defences against Vehicular Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs).

For any terrorist group to succeed in using suicide tactics, they need ready volunteers, a community to shade them from security services, precursor materials for making IEDs, experts to train potential volunteers, and experts to make body worn or other related IEDs vest. Some of these training can be accessed online from well-known Jihadist training manuals.

For the past six months, suicide bombing has become a common tool by some ISIL/Boko Haram factions especially immediately after 2015 when the military base was transferred from Abuja to Maiduguri by President Buhari on his inauguration speech of May 29th [3]. His promise of hard-line military strategy first and other soft approach later may have triggered fear and panic within the leadership structure of Boko Haram that a change of tactic was necessary to continue the insurgency attack impact.

From past incidence reports, Boko Haram selected perpetrators are usually vulnerable boys and girls some as young as 10 years old. Other insurgency groups use adults for maximum effect. Book Haram initial high value targets are often unsuspecting civilians and military/police personnel. However there has been a recent increase in attacks around places of worship, social gatherings, markets and other soft locations including the attack on Maiduguri University. It is important to note that Boko Haram 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.

The significant use of vulnerable girls and women, including the elderly as suicide bombers is very concerning and threatening to security services with no particular typology to profile a suspect on. On the one hand, it indicates that the military is inflicting some serious punches on Boko Haram efforts as promised by President Muhammadu Buhari as they continue to change tactics to stay relevant. On the other hand, it indicates that Boko Haram is desperate and losing man power to take on the military which is also thanks to the recent military strategy of weakening their human capacity to attack the military targets. This desperate reaction of Boko Haram indicated a disorganised insurgency with no permanent tactical pattern.

To militate against this military success, Boko Haram now specialises in using the most vulnerable and unsuspecting individuals as suicide bombers to target the most vulnerable population at the most vulnerable times.

Suicide bombing is an expensive strategy for most terrorist groups because it affects and reduces the manpower of the group. Most militants do not have the mindset to die in suicide circumstances, making it difficult for leaders to persuade members to take the cause either voluntarily or by coercion.

Strangely, it appears that insurgency groups like ISIL & Boko Haram seem capable of getting many willing volunteers for suicide tactics, thus a huge concern for any optimist looking at the end game of insurgency suicide activities in the Lake Chad region and globally.


To carry out a successful suicide attack, groups need a willing or coerced volunteer, an IED suicide vest and a soft or hard target. Pre-emptively killing a suicide bound terrorist just before they succeed to detonate the suicide vest or locate their intended target is a 50/50 chance reactive strategy based on luck and extreme vigilance. Not only do terrorist groups consider any suicide attempts as a success but the chances of successfully stopping a suicide bomber is very low, and can sometimes result in the killing of innocent suspects who may just look suspicious.

These complexities make practical and proactive measures to counter suicide bombing and bombers more complex since perpetrators cannot be physically profiled from normal innocent citizens. The truth is that, suicide bombers are increasingly becoming unsuspecting individuals ready to die themselves with or without taking others along. These ‘death-bound’ perpetrators easily blend into the local communities that they are familiar with without any notice of their intentions.

In the Republic of Chad and Cameroon measures like dressing down or even banning full face veils have been implemented [4] but the suicide bombers keep adapting to these security changes. Recent spiral in attacks using suicide bombers in Chad and Cameroon indicates that this measures of banning full face veils/dressing down has done little to deter willing suicide bombers from improvising.

The first and most effective measure is to tackle the supply chain of vulnerable volunteers who are recruited by various terrorist groups within local communities. To achieve 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 like Boko Haram promise young men and girls here on earth and the hereafter will naturally hinder voluntary recruitment and dry up the manpower.

Community based awareness programmes should be flooded into affected and vulnerable regions via varied methods and local platforms using experts to create public awareness on methodologies. Since trust in an issue between the state and the local communities, 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.

Secondly, 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’s or logistics of same. This will ensure that precursor materials like detonators, and other components used to make IEDs and VBIEDs which is readily available in the open market, are comprehensively policed using existing local methods of reporting and detecting that have yielded success elsewhere.

Thirdly, the absence of 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 work towards the building of a comprehensive national regional database in Africa, an initiative that the AU must champion. This requires time but a database system is imminent for effective information gathering, analysis and sharing to succeed.

Without an effective community awareness strategy and policing these precursor materials through a regional database, the use of suicide bombing and home-made IEDs will continue to be an effective tactical choice of groups like Boko Haram and cause more havoc to innocent citizens in places where they least expect. To win any battle or war of this nature, the national intelligence estimate of all possibilities must be right from the onset and continue to be enhanced and evaluated as terrorist groups become smarter and improvise on tactics and strategy. If these proactive measures are achieved in good time plus other practical measures to cut terrorist groups capacity to buy precursor materials, arms and ammunition from within and without. Until then, the likes of Boko Haram , Al-Shabaab and ISIL will not be technically defeated and our attempts to score points against suicide attacks will remain reactive and too little too late.

Note: The author reminds readers that mitigating efforts against suicide bombers using IEDs or VBIEDs is only one strategy against many in countering a terrorist group like Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab or ISIL or any other violent extremist group. Other countermeasures to address the underlying ideology must work in complement to achieve different goals simultaneously.

Consulting and Expert is always the recommended starting point.


[1] Global Terrorist Tactic Stats as of 11 August 2015 at Http://

[2] 10 Most Dangerous Countries; Country Threat Index (CTI) Http://


[4] Chad Bans face veils, also see Cameroon



David Otto

David Otto is the CT 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. David’s Work focuses on designing and implementing sustainable Anti Terrorism, Counter Terrorism and Organised Crime solutions to prevent and respond to vulnerabilities, political Instability, insurgencies and Organised Crime – between the geographical boundaries of the West and Africa. Under TGS Prevent initiative – SISO – David Otto was instrumental in organising the first ever African focused Counter Terrorism awareness conference in London (26th May 2015) in collaboration with the University of East London on the topic – ‘RADICALISATION. He is frequently invited by NGOs including the UN, NATO, Interpol as a frontline practitioner and academic to share his knowledge and experience on government community resilience strategies in Europe, Asia and Africa, especially on national proactive intervention initiatives within local communities, national security sectors and prison settings. He is regularly invited and quoted by key news channels Aljazeera, BBC News, Arise TV, BEN TV, PRESS TV, VOX Africa, Channel TV, and AILTV …as an expert to share his opinion on security and Counter Terrorism from an African and western link perspective. His work has been published, and features in international newspapers, social media – IBTIMES,CNN Awake Africa, Africa Voices etc. David holds a BA (Hons) in Law and Criminology; Master of Science (MSc) in Counter Terrorism and Organised Crime; Diploma IMIS -Information Technology 1 and 2; Micro-computer and Network Systems; and Business Communication. David Otto is a Certified Anti-Terrorism Specialist (CAS) & Certified Master Anti-Terrorism Specialist (CMAS) with the Anti-Terrorism Association Board. He is also a Certified Level 2 Prevent and Safeguarding Trainer.

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