First Female Suicide Bomber in Tunisia and Trends in Female Bombers Worldwide

On Monday October 29, 2018 a 30-year-old female suicide bomber detonated the explosives belt she was wearing killing only herself and wounding nine others.  Prior to Monday’s bombing, Tunisia has only had three other suicide bombings carried out (2012, 2013, and 2015), none by females.  The suicide bombing in 2015, carried out by the Islamic State, was one of three major attacks carried out by the group in Tunisia in 2015. In March 2015, three Islamic State militants entered the Bardo National Museum with Kalashnikovs and targeted tourists killing 22, wounding over 40.  Two perpetrators were killed by police, and the third suspect escaped and was captured in Germany in 2017. In June 2015, another Islamic State militant targeted tourists at the Riu Imperial Marhaba Hotel in Port El Kantaoui in Sousse, Tunisia.  The shooter walked around the resort shooting indiscriminately killing 38.  Sousse was also targeted by an Al Qaeda suicide bombing in 2013.

Tunisia has not had many terrorist attacks, but most of them have targeted civilians.  The attack on Monday was carried out near a shopping mall on Avenue Habib Bourguiba, which is considered to be the political, economic, and historical heart of the capital Tunis.  The attack, however, wounded eight policemen and one civilian.  Since the body was still in-tact, this indicates that either a small amount of explosives was used, or the bomb did not fully detonate.  Although most of the recent attacks were carried out by Islamic State, there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack on Monday.

This was Tunisia’s first ever female suicide bomber, but this has been more commonplace in other countries around the world.  The first female suicide bomber was 16-year-old Sana’a Mehaidli, who was dispatched by the Syrian Social Nationalist Party in Lebanon in April, 1985 (Month 41 below).  Since then, several groups have used female bombers. There are 20 countries that have had at least one female suicide bomber since 1985.  While many of the countries have had less than 5, there are a few countries that have experienced many female bombers such as: Iraq, Israel, Sri Lanka, Russia, and Turkey.  More recently Nigeria’s Boko Haram became the only group in the world to use female suicide bombers in such high numbers and frequency.  Since 2014 when Nigeria saw its first suicide bombing, there have been a total of 303 female suicide bombers dispatched in Nigeria, Cameroon, and Chad by Boko Haram. Below is a chart of all female suicide bombings worldwide between April, 1985 and the end of 2016.

Female Suicide Bombers Worldwide 1985-2016 – Dataset collected by Dr. Vesna Markovic from 1981-present

Prior to Boko Haram’s use of the female suicide bomber, there were no more than six suicide bombings carried out a month using females worldwide.  Since the advent of the Boko female bomber, there were as many as 18 as seen in the chart.  Month 404 which is July 2015 had the highest number of female suicide bombers ever.  All the suicide bombings that month were carried out in Nigeria and Cameroon by Boko Haram.  This corresponds with the election of Muhammed Buhari as President of Nigeria.  In his May 29, 2015 inaugural speech, he vowed to target Boko Haram putting troops in the northern capital of Maiduguri, which is also the headquarters of Boko Haram.

The use of female suicide bombers has been a more common occurrence in the past decade, but has not reached the same level as male suicide bombers.  Since the first modern suicide bombing was carried out in Lebanon in December of 1981, there have been over 6,000 thousand male suicide bombers.  Although the recent attack in Tunisia was an isolated suicide bombing, the use of female suicide bombers by groups around the world still remains a threat.

About Dr. Vesna Markovic

Dr. Vesna Markovic is Associate Professor of Justice, Law and Public Safety Studies at Lewis University. Her expertise includes Terrorism (Suicide Bombings, Financing Terrorism), Transnational and Organized Crime, Comparative Criminal Justice Systems

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