Somalia has recently witnessed a dramatic uptick of female suicide bombers. In the past four weeks alone, al-Shabaab conducted two suicide attacks and both perpetrators were female.
One attack targeted a seemingly impregnable municipal building which housed the mayor of Mogadishu, claiming the lives of eight people, including Mayor Abdirahman Omar Osman, while the other attack was a failed attempt at a Somali army camp post.
As the militant group gloated from the ensuing public reactions of shock, fear, and surprise, the paradigm shift of seeking female suicide bombers to fill their ranks foretells the group’s increasing desperation.
Al-Shabaab’s first use of female suicide bombers was an assassination attempt against the Somali interior minister, Abdishakur Hassan, in 2011. Since then, the group has carried out two more suicide attacks using women in 2012 and 2015, killing 36 people.
Studies of women suicide bombers in other terrorist movements reveal that the use of female suicide bombers shows a long-term organisational decline. The deployment of women bombers by groups is frequently regarded as a last act of desperation.
One of the main reasons is the group’s growing frustration with its inability to get male suicide bombers past crucial checkpoints on their way to their intended targets. In their desperation to circumvent the heavily fortified government sites, the group has opted to use female suicide bombers.