Chad’s capital was hit by a double suicide attack Monday. Not far from the presidential palace, two top state security buildings in the heart of N’Djamena were targeted by motorcyclists who blew themselves up. No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but suspicions have fallen squarely on Boko Haram. Chad is on the front line of the fight against the extremist group in neighbouring Nigeria and Cameroon. Our Observer describes a city under shock.
Officials say at least 27 people were killed – including four terrorists – and more than a hundred injured in the twin blasts that targeted the capital’s police headquarters and academy. Speaking on FRANCE 24’s sister radio RFI, Chad’s Interior Minister Abderahim Bireme Hamid called the attack “a kamikaze operation”. By mid-day, Chad’s government spokesperson and communications minister, Hassan Sylla Bakari, tried to reassure the Chadian people, asserting that the situation was “completely under control”.
According to one of our Observers who lives near the police academy, the first explosion rang out at around 9:30am. Then an hour later a second massive blast was heard. “From my house, I saw people running all over the place. They were saying that fighters from Boko Haram had managed to break into the police academy on motorbikes and had blown themselves up.”
Boko Haram recently changed its name to “Islamic State’s West African Province”, after the extremists swore a pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State organisation back in March. Although the group still hasn’t claimed responsibility for carrying out the blasts, they bear all the hallmarks of a Boko Haram attack.
Chad is playing a key role in the fight to roll back the armed Islamists terrorising the region. Five months ago, the country began deploying thousands of soldiers to Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria, putting jihadists on the back foot on several fronts. On a regional level, Chad is also one of France’s top partners in the battle against jihadist groups across the Sahel. N’Djamena is the permanent headquarters of France’s 3,000-strong counter-terrorism force, which was rolled out under ‘Operation Barkhane’ and aims to combat terrorism across the region.
This attack has come as a surprise for us. We expected to see more of these kind of attacks at the precise moment when Chad first intervened in Cameroon [January 2015]. But lately, security has been much weaker and the number of checkpoints has gone down. I learnt from security sources that searches were much less strict at border crossings between Chad and Cameroon, particularly at N’gueli and Koutere. Weapons detectors are no longer used systematically.
At the police headquarters, for a time, it was impossible to park cars in front of the building. But lately, these rules became more lax; there was too much carelessness. There were also less patrols being carried out by the police and the gendarmerie. In my opinion, the authorities played down the risks. Yet, we know that there are terrorists operating inside the country. I heard on several occasions that individuals armed with explosives and weapons had been stopped at border crossings and in the area around Lake Chad.
In an interview with French newspaper ‘Le Monde’, a security source acknowledged deficiencies in Chad’s police force and admitted that officers hadn’t received anti-terrorist training.
The attack took place while Chad’s President Idriss Déby was in South Africa attending an African Union summit. He was expected back in the capital on Monday evening, where security has been boosted in the wake of the blasts, according to our Observers.