28 March 2016

West Africa: Cameroon Delays Quizzing of Bomber Claiming to Be Chibok Schoolgirl As Doubts Mount

Photo: Video Screen Grab/Boko Haram
(file photo).

Abuja, Nigeria — Cameroon officials delayed on Monday the questioning of a female suicide bomber claiming to be one of the schoolgirls abducted from Chibok in northeast Nigeria two years ago by Islamic militants due to injuries as doubts mounted over her identity.

The girl claiming to be one of the 219 missing schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram and another woman were arrested on Friday carrying explosives in Limani in northern Cameroon that has been the target of frequent suicide bombings recently.

The arrest raised hopes that the girl might be able to assist the Nigerian government in investigations regarding the fate and whereabouts of the missing Chibok girls.

Nigerian officials said they were sending parents from Chibok to verify whether the girl was one of the secondary school girls whose abduction sparked world outrage and the massive campaign #bringbackourgirls.

Garba Shehu, spokesperson for Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, said they had hoped the girl could be questioned on Monday and meet Chibok parents to confirm her identity but it was looking less likely that she was one of the missing girls.

He said she now needed medical treatment before being questioned with the cause of her injuries unknown. Cameroon officials have instead sent photos to local non-government organisation, the Murtala Muhammed Foundation, to pass to the Chibok parents.

"She was found to be heavily drugged and bore several injuries on her body, for which she is receiving treatment," Shehu told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an email statement.

But he said as investigations went on it was seeming less likely the girl was one of the missing girls. He said she appeared to be aged between nine and 12 and her accomplice aged about 30 years or older.

"All these go to reinforce suspicion that the arrested girls may not fit into the profile of secondary students who are usually of the age 15 and above," Shehu said.

Shehu said Nigeria's Ministry of Women Affairs, the Nigerian High Commission in Cameroon and all government agencies were continuing "to work together with other stakeholders in trying to get to get to the bottom of the issue".

The Murtala Muhammed Foundation in Nigeria, a non-government organisation which has been supporting the Chibok parents association, was working with the Nigerian government to organise a trip to Cameroon by parents to meet the girl.

Former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan was criticized for his slow reaction to the Chibok abductions by Boko Haram, which at its strongest held large swathes of northern Nigeria.

Joint operations between Nigeria and neighbouring countries succeeded in driving Boko Haram from many of its strongholds last year but the Islamists have stepped up cross-border attacks and suicide bombings, many of them carried out by young girls.

Muhammadu Buhari, who defeated Jonathan in a 2015 election, ordered a new investigation into the kidnappings in January. (Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; )

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