Know: Cameroon doubts bomb girl's claim to be Chibok abductee
Authorities in Cameroon on Monday poured doubt on a would-be suicide bomber’s claim that she is one of the 276 Nigerian school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram jihadists in 2014.
“We don’t think that she was one of the girls (kidnapped) from Chibok,” an administration official who requested anonymity told AFP, citing inconsistencies over her apparent age.
The girl in question is one of two would-be suicide bombers arrested in northern Cameroon on Friday wearing 12-kilogramme (26-pound) explosives belts.
Less than a month before the second anniversary of the brazen kidnapping which shook the world, 219 students from the northern Nigerian town of Chibok remain missing and there are few signs that the government is making progress on finding and securing their release.
Nigeria is planning to send a delegation, including Chibok parents, to Cameroon to meet the girl, and the presidency said late Monday that people from the town were being shown her photograph to see if they recognised her.
“The girl was found to be heavily drugged and bore several injuries on her body. The girl’s health condition had delayed her movement to the far north regional capital of Cameroon, Maroua, as earlier planned,” the presidency said.
“Pictures of the arrested suspected bomber obtained by Nigerian officials indicated that the girl was likely a minor, between ages nine to 12 years,” the statement added.
The “Bring Back Our Girls” advocacy group said that the youngest of those kidnapped in 2014 was 16 years old at the time.
The Nigerian presidency continued: “Considering the well-known guidelines regarding the publication of photography of minors, we have decided to forward the pictures of the suspected bomber to the Murtala Muhammed Foundation (a non-profit) for verification by interested Chibok community stakeholders.”
Boko Haram has carried out suicide bombings often using girls as part of its armed campaign to establish an Islamic state in northern Nigeria.
Midjiyawa Bakari, governor of Cameroon’s North Region had already on Saturday voiced doubts about the claim by one of the two girls arrested that she had been part of the mass kidnapping.
“We are treating this statement with caution,” he said, adding that such would-be attackers “are often drugged and can say anything”.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s spokesman Garba Shehu on Sunday echoed those doubts, noting that the girl appeared too young to be one of the kidnapped girls.
The Nigerian presidency said Monday that the girl’s accomplice appeared to be in her thirties, after earlier reports that the other bomber was also aged around ten. Both spoke the local Kanuri language.
Boko Haram has suffered substantial setbacks in recent months in the face of a counteroffensive by national armies from the region.
At least 17,000 people have been killed since Boko Haram launched an insurgency in 2009 to carve out an Islamic state in northeast Nigeria.
More than 2.6 million people have fled their homes since the start of the violence but some of the internally displaced have returned home after troops began the fight-back last year and recaptured territory.
A regional force involving troops from Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin is to deploy to fight the Islamists.