Militants aligned to the Nigerian radical Islamist group Boko Haram have been captured attempting to escape the northeastern town of Baga disguised as women, according to Nigerian officials.
The discovery comes as Nigerian soldiers continue their counter-terror operation against the militant group’s insurgency in the northeastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, all of which remain under a state of emergency.
The capture of the jihadists clad in women’s clothes took place in Baga, a town in the Borno state which the Nigerian government announced they had recaptured this week. It was the site of a massacre last month in which over 2,000 people lost their lives according to local officials, making it the biggest mass killing since the group began its six-year battle to create an Islamic caliphate in the country’s northern regions.
Major-general Chris Olukolade, Nigeria’s defense spokesman, claimed that during the military’s operation in Baga they had found “terrorists” dressed as women, bombs “hidden in various locations” and some militants hiding in the town. He also said that the military had increased its air strikes against the radical group, forcing them to retreat into the surrounding Sambisa Forest.
“The cordon and search in Baga has revealed some terrorists disguised as women,” he said. “The searches are also yielding more discoveries of arms, especially bombs, hidden in various locations.
“Apart from those captured in the course of fighting, many terrorists hiding in the town are being arrested and troops are still busy interrogating the suspects.”
The use of women’s clothing as a disguise is not an unusual tactic, analysts say, with terror groups such as Al-Shabaab and the Taliban using the strategy to carry out attacks or escape security forces. The former attacked the Westgate Mall in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, with men dressed as women, while the latter used militants in female attire in hopes of getting close to occupying U.S. marines in Afghanistan.
“We’ve seen this method used in other theatres of operation. This is not something new,” says Imad Mesdoua, political analyst at Africa-focused political risk consultancy Africa Matters.
“The Taliban have done this and other guerrilla groups have used this method when they are in tough situations and they need to get out.”
Manji Cheto, West Africa analyst at political risk consultancy Teneo Intelligence explains that: “Women generally tend to be considered lower security targets. Dressed as a Muslim women in a veil is the easiest way to disguise yourself because it doesn’t get the same level of attention with your face exposed.”
The Nigerian military and the country’s security services have faced staunch criticism from Nigerian commentators after recommending that the presidential election, originally scheduled for February 14, be postponed until March 28 in order to carry out a six-week offensive against Boko Haram.
Experts believe the military is now increasingly publicising any successes they have in the battle against the insurgency during its pre-election operation after years of failing to contain the Boko Haram threat.
“With the assistance of regional allies, the momentum is clearly shifting to the advantage of the Nigerian military,” asserts Mesdoua. “The military is now communicating victories way more actively and showcasing its successes as part of a broader communications strategy.”
In another pre-election development regarding Boko Haram, the spokesman for the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) party leader Muhammadu Buhari has accused the ruling Goodluck Jonathan government of plotting to arrest a “fake Shekau” (the elusive leader of Boko Haram is Abubakar Shekau), according to local Nigerian media. APC spokesman Garba Shehu signed a statement which said the fake Shekau would claim he is working for the APC in order to defame the party and hurt their electoral prospects.
The Council on Foreign Relations’ Nigeria Security Tracker estimates that the terror group have killed up to 10,404 people since January 2014.