CAMEROON

Boko Haram targets tribal chiefs in northern Cameroon

The village of Nigué, 2 km from Fotokol, where the suicide attack took place. All photos were taken on November 21 by our Observer.
The village of Nigué, 2 km from Fotokol, where the suicide attack took place. All photos were taken on November 21 by our Observer.

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Four young female suicide bombers blew themselves up on Saturday in a village near Fotokol, in northern Cameroon, leaving five people dead and another 10 injured. Although no one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, suspicion has fallen squarely on Boko Haram. According to our Observer, the deadly blasts were the latest in a series of attacks targeting local tribal chiefs.

WARNING: The following images may shock viewers

The suicide attacks took place at about midday in Nigué, a small village located around two kilometres from Fotokol. According to the regional governor, a woman detonated her explosive vest in a tribal chief's house, killing five members of his family and injuring dozens more people. A few minutes later three other female suicide bombers blew themselves up nearby, but fortunately no one was hurt.

The list of the victims, sent to us by our Observer. Three of the four killed were children. 

This is the third time an attack of this type has shaken Cameroon's Far North Region in less than five months. On July 12, two women were behind the first suicide attack ever to hit Fotokol, killing at least 11 people. Barely four months later, on November 9, three civilians were killed after two more women carried out another suicide bombing near a mosque in the same town.

The terrorist group Boko Haram, which now refers to itself as the Islamic State in Western Africa, had already attacked Fotokol last February, killing at least 80 people.

Shortly after the suicide attack. Photo blurred by FRANCE 24.

"The terrorist group must have suspected that he was supporting the army"

Ali (not his real name) lives in Fotokol. He travelled to Nigué after the attack.

Bana Kachalla Malloum is the traditional chief for the village of Leymarie. But he was living in Nigué for the past year. He wasn't at home when the blasts took place, so his family bore the brunt of the attack.

He had already fled Leymarie for Nigué after his older brother, the village's former chief, had his throat slit by Boko Haram fighters in front of everyone. After this tragic incident, everyone fled Leymarie and Bana replaced his brother as the village chief-in-exile. His older brother was killed because he had been working with the army in the fight against Boko Haram. I think that Bana Kachalla Malloum was targeted because the terrorist group must have suspected that he was doing the exact same thing.

This isn't the first time that village chiefs in communities near Fotokol have been targeted. A year ago, Fagme's chief was also killed, and the chief of Foueram was kidnapped.

 

A victim of the suicide attack that took place on Saturday. Photo blurred by FRANCE 24.

Boko Haram targets surrounding villages as security is ramped up in Fotokol

I think the suicide blasts were carried out in Nigué because it's becoming more and more complicated to attack Fotokol itself. Security has been tightened over the last few months, which has probably forced Boko Haram to rethink its strategy.

Following February's attack, soldiers from Chad and Cameroon worked together to tighten security in Fotokol. Although the Chadian soldiers left in October, Cameroon's soldiers are still very much present. They're stationed at security posts scattered throughout the town and on the outskirts. Since the February attacks, it has also been forbidden to use motorbikes to drive on the outskirts of Fotokol, because that's how terrorists tend to get around. Likewise, cars are only allowed on the roads in Fotokol and around the city between 7am and 6pm.

Since July, soldiers and members of the town's vigilance committee have been carrying out searches at the entrance to mosques every Friday during prayer time. It's no longer allowed to wear a full veil in the streets. Carts pulled by animals have also been banned, out of fears that they could be used to carry bags filled with explosives.

 

Worst-case scenarios avoided thanks to vigilance committees

The vigilance committees are made up of local residents and are active both in Fotokol and neighbouring villages. They were set up around two-and-a-half years ago when Boko Haram began threatening the area. Unlike the soldiers, they know the local population well, so they're able to point out suspicious-looking people. Some of them have even armed themselves with machetes and arrows. After the first explosion on Saturday, it was members of Nigué's vigilance committee who spotted the three other suicide bombers, who then blew themselves up without killing anyone.

But in spite of everything, people in the region are still scared. Boko Haram fighters are still present right across the border in Nigeria, where they roam freely, since the Nigerian army does not have a permanent presence in that area.