by Stephen Brown
Cameroon latest country to outlaw Islamic garment after Boko Haram suicide bombers launch string of deadly attacks.
Only a month after the Muslim-majority nation of Chad announced in June a ban on the burqa and full-face veils, neighbouring Cameroon has done likewise. And for the same reason – to save lives.
Female suicide bombers wearing the Islamic garments left a trail of death and destruction in July in Cameroon, a West African nation of 22 million. Forty-three people perished in different attacks and dozens more were injured in the first suicide bombings ever to take place there.
The previous month, Chad had experienced the same devastation from suicide bombers, involving both men and women dressed in the all-concealing religious clothing. A twin suicide attack on June 15 in the country’s capital of N’Djamena, the first also for Chad, left 38 people dead. Another suicide attack in N’Djamena on July 12, involving a male bomber disguised in the Islamic dress, claimed an additional 15 lives. Chad announced its burqa and veil ban right after the June attack.
In Cameroon, the first strike, also a twin suicide bombing, took place July 13 in Cameroon’s Muslim-majority Far North region, one of the country’s ten, semi-autonomous administrative areas. Two women dressed in “religious garments” blew themselves up in Fotokol, a Far North town bordering Nigeria. Thirteen people perished in the blasts and many more were wounded.
The next attack occurred almost two weeks later in Maroua, the Far North’s capital. Like the Fotokol attack, it was also to be a twin suicide bombing carried out by female attackers wearing Islamic garb. Their target was a popular market where one bomber succeeded in killing 20 people. It was reported another was apprehended before she could detonate her explosives. She revealed that a third accomplice was sent to the hospital to blow herself up among the medical personnel and family members of the many wounded who would have gathered there. Fortunately, she was also apprehended before fulfilling her mission. Reports state the “successful” bomber was “a nine-year old girl disguised as a beggar.”
Another terrorist strike three days later, also in Maroua, saw yet another female human bomb blow herself up at a bar patronised by locals, killing “at least 10” and injuring more than 60.
Boko Haram, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, is strongly suspected of having organised the murderous assaults, although the jihadist organization has not claimed responsibility. The Nigeria-based group is known worldwide for its slaughter of innocent civilians, suicide bombings and enslavement of young women. It has killed at least 15,000 people since 2009 in a murderous jihad to establish an Islamic caliphate in Muslim-majority, northern Nigeria
Like in Chad, right after the attacks different administrative regions in Cameroon outlawed the burqa and full-face veil. The Far North was the first, as Boko Haram was concentrating its suicide attacks there. Most of Cameroon’s Muslims, who constitute 20 percent of the country’s population, reside there (Forty percent of Cameroonians are Christian, while the remainder follow traditional African religions).
Far North Governor Midjiyawa Bakari announced the ban after the July 13 attack. Bakari reported the heads of the two suicide bombers involved in that strike were found and that they “were women wearing face veils.”
The ban was soon extended to two other regions, the Eastern and Western, although they had experienced no suicide bombings. A spokeswoman for the Western region told Agence France Press (AFP) that the ban in her district covers “the manufacturing, sale and wearing of the burqa.”
Far North authorities have also adopted other security measures in the hope of preventing further suicide attacks. Muslims, for example, are not allowed to meet “in large groups without permission,” and cars may no longer have tinted windshields. Motorbikes are also not allowed on the road at night.
“We are also systematically checking all vehicles, and controlling all luggage and the population should collaborate because there is a serious security threat to our nation,” said Bakari.
Cameroon and Chad both belong to an anti-Boko Haram coalition of African countries that includes Nigeria, Benin and Niger. Boko Haram had controlled an area of northern Nigeria “about the size of Belgium” until earlier this year when Chad and Cameroon sent troops to help Nigerian government forces cope with the insurgency. Their combined efforts won back large areas from Boko Haram, causing the jihadists to switch to guerilla tactics. The recent suicide bombings are viewed as Boko Haram’s revenge against the two nations for helping Nigeria.
Boko Haram has also been conducting for two years bloody, cross-border raids against the two states. In late July, its jihadists decapitated three Far North residents after attacking an isolated mountain village near the Nigerian border and burning a Catholic church.
The threat of suicide bombers dressed in female Islamic garb is now deemed so great that even African countries possessing small Muslim populations and having experienced no suicide attacks or “any religious extremist violence” have instituted burqa and veil bans. Congo-Brazzaville in Central Africa is a case in point. With Muslims making up less than five percent of the population, Congo-Brazzaville nevertheless banned the burqa and veil last May, being the first African country to so. The measure was described as being necessary “to prevent violent extremism.” Another African country with a small Muslim population, Gabon, did the same after the Cameroon attacks.
Viewing the expanding burqa and veil ban in Africa, it is perhaps time that Western countries consider a similar security strategy. After all, Islamic beheadings arrived in France last month. And soon after, another terrorist plot against a minor French military base that was to end with the commander’s head cut off was thwarted. Since this particular jihadist practice is now here, one can safely assume it is only a matter of time before Islamic suicide bombings involving “religious garments” will also appear within our borders. It already has in Russia – several times - and with devastating consequences.
To their credit, a few Western countries like France, Belgium, and parts of Switzerland have banned burqas and veils, but mainly for societal rather than security reasons. But paralysed by political correctness, intimidated by accusations of Islamophobia, many Western governments will likely not act in this direction until there is blood on the ground, if even then. And if such is the case, then those leaders who neglected to take timely action should themselves don a burqa or veil – to cover their shame.
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