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Cameroon town reels from terror attack

Mark Caldwell (Reuters, AFP)
January 26, 2016

In a bid to rob suicide bombers of targets, Cameroon has closed busy markets along the Nigerian border after a deadly raid. One analyst told DW Nigerian counter-insurgency could be driving jihadists into Cameroon.

Kamerun/ Soldaten/ Boko Haram
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Cameroon is being pummeled by attacks. Officials say they have counted 30 by suspected Boko Haram militants since the start of the year; approximately one a day.

On Monday (25.01.2016) four explosions struck a busy market and entrances to the town of Bodo, which borders on one of Boko Haram's strongholds in northeastern Nigeria.

A DW correspondent in the Cameroonian capital Yaounde said that the death toll on Tuesday was at least 35 and that 70 had been seriously wounded.

In a move to tighten security, Midjiyawa Bakari, governor of Cameroon's Far North province, where the attacks took place, announced that some markets in the border area would be closed.

But he admitted that people would continue to buy and sell things, somehow, somewhere. Boko Haram, too, was aware of this and it was something people should remember. "They should know that Boko Haram is looking for [places] where people are gathering to do these attacks," Bakari said.

Attackers undetetced

Ryan Cummings, chief Africa analyst at the South Africa-based crisis management group Red 24, told DW that the closure of markets will give Boko Haram potentially fewer targets to execute such acts of terrorism. But he noted that in Cameroon "suicide bombers have targeted other public areas such as mosques, some public transportation hubs. Boko Haram suicide bombers, Boko Haram militants, will still have both the intent and the operational capability to target other facilities in the region," he said.
One local official, who asked not to be named, said Monday's attackers had slipped into the town under the cover of the seasonal dusty Harmattan winds. "The winds had been blowing for three days," he said. The winds reduce visibility and "the vigilance committees weren't able to see the suicide bombers, who arrived in the middle of the night."

Karte Kamerun mit Bodo Englisch
At least 35 people were killed in the attack on Bodo on January 25, 2016

There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack, which one local source said was carried out by four girl suicide bombers.

After the attack, Cameroonian troops launched a raid on the Nigerian side of the town of Achigashia, which straddles the border. The Cameroonian military believes this is where the suicide bombers were based.

Cameroon's minister of communication and government spokesman, Issa Tchiroma Bakary, said the raid, which was intended to stop the persistent attacks on Cameroon, killed 17 insurgents.

He said Cameroon's forces "have always retaliated, leading the enemy to incur several setbacks."

Acitivities in town at a standstill

In recent years, Boko Haram fighters have slipped back and forth across the border, using Cameroon's north as a rear base, where they acquired arms, vehicles and supplies.

But since late November, Cameroonian troops have carried out several border area operations designed to weaken Boko Haram. The jihadists have responded by avoiding direct confrontation with the military, opting instead for suicide attacks increasingly staged by women and girls.

Monday's attack on Bodo, which was also targeted in December when two suicide bombers blew themselves up at the entrance to the town, has paralyzed the local community.

Businessman Arouna Raphael told DW that "all activities have come to a standstill, even in neighboring villages." He said it would take time for them to recover in spite of the heavy troop deployment. "There is a lot of control and screening, but the atmosphere remains tense," he added.

Cummings says the government and military in neighboring Nigeria have evidently intensified counter-terrorism operations against Boko Haram in the northeast of the country. This may have curtailed the militants' capabilities within the region.

"This might have pushed Boko Haram back across the border into Cameroon," he said.

Moki Kindzeka in Yaounde contributed to this report.

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