Female terrorists ISIS deploys more women as frontline suicide bombers
Security services in many countries are facing a new challenge: More and more women are sent or inspired by ISIS to engage in terrorists acts in Europe and the Islamic world. Female followers of ISIS have until now been largely limited to support roles I the organization. Since the summer, however, as the retreat of ISIS in the face of a U.S.-led coalition campaign accelerated, the organization has reversed its policy on women in operational roles.
Security services in many countries are facing a new challenge: More and more women are sent or inspired by ISIS to engage in terrorists acts inEurope and the Islamic world.
Female followers of ISIS have until now been largely limited to support roles I the organization. Since the summer, however, as the retreat of ISIS in the face of a U.S.-led coalition campaign accelerated, the organization has reversed its policy on women in operational roles.
The Observer reports that since August, a series of terrorist plots involving women have been uncovered by security authorities in Europe and north Africa.
The employment of women as terrorists creates a new challenge for security agencies. “It’s a concern … There is constant evolution as the pressures on [ISIS] increase, so we are not complacent,”said one western European security official.
Four French women, aged 19 to 39, were arrested in September for a plot to blow up a car near the Notre Dame Cathedral.. The cell, organized by an ISIS militant in France who was known to the security services, was the first to consist entirely of women.
“If at first it appeared that women were confined to family and domestic chores by the terrorist organization, it must be noted that this view is now completely outdated,” François Molins, a French prosecutor, told reporters after the four were arrested.
The Paris plot received considerable media attention, which has not been the case with other plots around the world in which women played an operational role. In August, ISIS deployed at least one female suicide bomber in Libya, and in October the Moroccan security services arrested ten women on suspicion of plotting a large terror attack. Officials noted that all were in their teens, had sworn allegiance to ISIS, and were in possession of bomb-making material.
The women “got in touch with [ISIS] elements via the internet and were brainwashed into committing destructive acts targeting … tourist sites in particular,” said Abdelhak Khiame, who leads Morocco’s Central Bureau of Judicial Investigations.
“This is the first time we have found a terrorist cell that was entirely composed of women. Terrorists are focusing [recruitment] efforts on minors who are female. That is very worrying for all of us. It’s an alarm bell,” Khiame said.
Women have been deployed to the front lines of Islamic militancy before. Senior officials in al Qaeda, however, have consistently made clear their opposition to women taking part in combat activities, saying that a more suitable role for women would be supporting male “mujahideen” and the broader struggle, rather than physically take up arms themselves.
When al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq defied the policy and deployed a female suicide bomber in 2005 to attack a hotel in Amman, Jordan, the decision was roundly criticized within extremist circles.
ISIS initially restricted the many thousands of female volunteers it attracted from Europe and the Islamic world to support activities. “Thus far, ISIS has stifled the role of women in the ‘caliphate’ by limiting them to the house, ensuring they raise the next generation of jihadi militants and provide for their husbands,” Rachel Bryson, of theCentre on Religion and Geopolitics in London, told the Observer.
Still, ISIS affiliates – especially Boko Haram in Nigeria – have continued to use women in terrorist attacks – and some women acted as lone-wolves terrorists.
The recent change “would suggest the group is starting to heavily feel the pressure from the action taken against it,” Bryson said.
ISIS is facing a military defeat in the shrinking areas it controls in Iraq and Syria.
Some analysts argue the organization will be able to continue to attract support because of its past record of victories, with volunteers taking the view that it needs help now more than ever. Other experts believe that the appeal of ISIS will be much weakened.
Bryson said: “As [ISIS] and others start to lose more ground, their pool of recruits will grow smaller, meaning that they’ll need more women to take up combat roles. Furthermore, Isis knows that the death of a woman evokes a larger response worldwide than that of a man, and for ISIS’s PR machine increasing the group’s media platform is an attractive prospect.”