MAKARY, CAMEROON - Local self-defense groups in this country's north have thwarted a rash of attempted suicide bombings targeting civilians near the border with Nigeria in the past week, officials say.
During early morning prayers Monday, the civilian group in this northern border town faced one such test. A young man appeared for the first time in their mosque, raising suspicions, said Muslim cleric Bouba Garba.
When the stranger moved toward the imam, shouting that he should pray for peace in the world, vigilantes shot and killed the stranger with a bow and poisoned arrow. Then they used a long stick to search him from a distance, detonating the man’s explosive vest.
No one else was killed in the incident. But Aladji Dama, 42, who heads the civilian group, said he was having trouble hearing after the loud explosion. Others were wounded, too.
Ndjock Isaac, one of the senior military health personnel based in the town of Mora, said the military treated people wounded in the mosque attack.
At least 12 would-be suicide bombers have tried to carry out attacks over the past week, according to Midjiyawa Bakari, governor of the Far North region.
Bakari credited the vigilante groups with stopping hundreds of suicide bombers in the past three months, and expressed gratitude on behalf of the government and Cameroon people.
The militant Islamist group Boko Haram deploys suicide bombers to cross over from its stronghold in northern Nigeria to wage terror. Last month, UNICEF reported that the group increasingly has been using youngsters to carry out its deadly missions. But Bakari noted that three women in their 40s were among the would-be bombers killed recently in Cameroon.
The self-defense groups have been collaborating closely with soldiers from Cameroon’s Rapid Intervention Brigade.
Isaac said the soldiers make sure they spend at least 18 hours with vigilantes every day. The soldiers' superiors have asked that they share their food with the defense groups and take care of their health needs, he added.
Cameroon authorities are investigating whether the recent female suicide bombers were among the hundreds of Cameroonian women abducted by Boko Haram, Bakari said.