Maiduguri — The ongoing military raid on members of the Jama'atu Ahlissunnah Lidda'awati Wal Jihad, also known as Boko Haram, has continued to take new dimensions with the insurgents now allegedly disguising as women to go after their targets.
Observers say the sect members started employing the latest strategy following the increasing revolt against them by both the residents and the Joint Task Force (JTF).
Before their latest tactics of using women to move weapons about or men disguised as women, the JTF had warned of the kidnap of young girls by the terrorist group to have smooth ride towards reaching their targets.
Residents, security operatives and pundits describe the latest method adopted by Boko Haram as complicating and unprecedented, which must be handled with caution.
While it is very common to see men being asked to get out of their vehicles and form long queues to be searched by security operatives, women get lighter treatment when entering important places like government offices, police and military barracks, among others.
Following the recent activities of youth vigilante groups that have sprung up in Maiduguri and environs in the last four weeks, which resulted in the arrest of many suspected insurgents; the propensity of the Boko Haram fighters to have a field day of planting bombs or sneaking into houses to kill their targets have grossly reduced.
Many of the sect fighters have been caught by the youth groups, whom the JTF now refer to as 'patriotic citizens' instead of 'Civilian JTF.' Many also attribute this success to the youths, with the support of their parents and security agencies, who have agreed to salvage themselves from the shackles of insurgency.
"The youths know the Boko Haram insurgents very well and it is therefore not difficult to identify and catch them anywhere, including markets," Bakura Suraj, a trader said.
He, however, noted that the new method of Boko Haram members disguising as women is a source for concern and called for the immediate deployment of women intelligence officers to help security men on ground as well as the youth vigilante groups in their 'stop and search' operations.
Although there is no recorded case of a successful operation by the 'disguised Boko Haram' members, our correspondents report that several attempts have been made by them.
The latest attempt was made on Wednesday when operatives of the JTF shot dead three suspected Boko Haram members who disguised as women and attempted to attack the Ibrahim Taiwo Police Station, along Baga road.
Witnesses said apart from the three killed, over 20 men, clad in Hijab (female flowing gown and veil popular used by Muslims) and Abaya (a long robe also popular among women in Borno) were arrested around the police station.
A security source said the incident happened around 2 pm, adding that all the suspects had AK-47 rifles and RPGs arms, concealed beneath their clothes.
The source said the attempted attack was repelled because a combined team of soldiers, policemen and SSS were keeping watch at the station, which is directly facing Baga Market.
Another security source said they actually had intelligence report that Boko Haram members were planning to attack the Ibrahim Taiwo Police Station, but did not have an idea of the method they will adopt in their attack.
"Terrorists are exceedingly dubious and dynamic when it comes to changing tactics. Based on the intelligence we got, we told our men to be on alert. And as you can see, they wore women clothes and pretended as if they were going for an occasion," the source said.
He said it was after the insurgents were killed that it was discovered they were not women, pointing out that several attempts had been made by the Boko Haram fighters to attack the Ibrahim Taiwo Police Station.
Findings reveal that apart from men disguising as women, there are incidences when some women are knowingly or unknowingly used by the Boko Haram command to ferry guns or explosives to certain places.
Our correspondents report that one of such cases was on Saturday last week when a woman was killed by a bomb strapped to her back like a baby.
Weekly Trust gathered that the woman died instantly when the bomb exploded along Gamboru road, before the woman got to her target. Days after that incident, two women who also backed explosives covered them with their cloth were arrested at the famous Monday Market by youth vigilante groups. The vigilantes observed that the suspected women were making doubtful advances towards the market.
Observers say the Boko Haram leaders are now using women as cover, because of the traditional and religious immunity given to them.
"The large outpour of civilian JTF on the streets have blocked the maneuverability of the insurgents and their capacity to wreak havoc...I think that is why they are now deploying women," a retired police officer said.
He said the new trend will be a serious challenge for security operatives, "because in Islam, women are given special recognition as their bodies are sacred and no man is allowed to touch them except their husbands or immediate family members," he said.
It was also gathered that three women were arrested by military operatives close to Sanda Kyarimi Zoo Park, when they sought to know what the women were carrying beneath their hijabs.
A witness said one of the women who was visibly shaken, said the consignments were not theirs, stating that some young men forced them to carry the guns to a particular place.
Such incidents have made members of the youth groups to vow to search women's bags as well as prevent them from going out of their houses after Magrib (sunset prayer).
Similarly, at Sabon Gari area of Gwange II ward, some suspected Boko Haram members were caught when they disguised in women cloths.
When contacted on the foiled attack on Ibrahim Taiwo Police Station by men disguised in women attires, spokesman of JTF, Lt. Col Sagir Musa, said it is the police that should talk on that issue, adding that the JTF only offered its help to repel the attack.
On the activities of the youth vigilante groups, the spokesman described their action as commendable. "We are closely monitoring what the youths are doing and we want their parents to keep watch on them so that the ultimate goal of their volunteerism will not be defeated at the end of the day," he said.