Three would-be suicide bombers killed in Nigeria

Kano (Nigeria) (AFP) - Three teenage girls suspected of planning a triple suicide bomb attack in a town frequently targeted by Boko Haram have been shot dead, a local government official said on Thursday.

Civilian vigilantes opened fire on the trio near the town of Madagali when they refused to stop for a security check, the town council's chairman, Yusuf Muhammad, told AFP.

"Explosives strapped to two of the girls exploded from the impact of the shooting, while those on the third girl were defused by soldiers," he added.

Boko Haram Islamists have regularly used young women and girls as human bombs in a nearly eight-year insurgency, which has left at least 20,000 people dead and made more than 2.6 million homeless.

Some of the bombers have been as young as seven and are unlikely to have been aware of their actions, said experts who track the conflict.

Civilian "soft" targets such as mosques, churches, markets and bus stations have been hit repeatedly to cause mass civilian casualties.

Muhammad said the girls were intercepted at Bakin Dutse village, some five kilometres (three miles) from Madagali, and were believed to be heading to the town's market.

Last month, at least 45 people were killed in twin suicide attacks at Madagali's busy markets, a year after a similar strike killed 17.

Madagali is in the far north of Adamawa state on the border with Borno state, which has borne the brunt of the violence since 2009.

Islamic State Group affiliate Boko Haram's Sambisa Forest hideout is nearby. In August 2014, Madagali fell to the jihadists but was reclaimed two months later, although attacks continue.

Nigeria's military claims to have driven Boko Haram out of Sambisa and the attacks are the last throw of the dice for the rebels.

But, as the militant fighters scatter, it is thought the conflict may move elsewhere, including into the Lake Chad area that forms the border with Niger, Chad and Cameroon.