Boko Haram’s vicious tactics in Nigeria reach new low

Army attempt to take back land held by rebels likely to end in failure with lack of international support

With the attention of the world distracted by Charlie Hebdo, the remorseless wave of killings in northeastern Nigeria in recent days is in danger of passing under the radar. The weekend deaths of at least 42 in market "suicide" bombings, by what were allegedly 10-year- old girls, capped a particularly brutal fortnight rampage by the country's own-brand Islamist militants, Boko Haram. According to Amnesty International, up to 2,000 people died in attacks by the group, in and near the town of Baga, in worst-hit Borno state near Nigeria's border with Chad.

The unprecedented use of young girls to carry bombs – quite probably unknowingly, and thus hardly “suicide” bombers – marks a new low for a group that seems to vie with ideological soulmates Isis and al-Qaeda in devising new means to shock and terrify. A beheading on video trumps a mass kidnapping of children; a mini-genocide on a mountainside ratchets up the brutality; then a massacre of journalists and a pre-teen “suicide” bomber. . . Where next?

Boko Haram, which hopes to create a caliphate in the religiously mixed country, holds large parts of the Muslim-majority northeast, making virtually certain the February general election campaign will represent, at best, a partial mandate for a new government in Africa’s largest country.

More than 10,000 people were killed last year in Boko Haram’s sectarian drive, with an estimated 1.6 million people forced from their homes during the five-year insurgency. And there has been absolutely no success on the part of the country’s ineffective and brutal army, widely believed to have been heavily infiltrated by the militants, in finding the 300 schoolgirls kidnapped in April with many of the girls feared now to have been “married” to militants.

The army says it is regrouping to take back land seized in recent weeks by Boko Haram but the collapse of international assistance, mainly United States reconnaissance and training support, means there is little real prospect ahead of the election of dealing any kind of decisive blow against this most vicious of organisations.