Since 1985, terrorism’s so-called invisible women have accounted for a quarter of fatal attacks in Iraq, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Chechnya, Sri Lanka, Morocco and Palestine. My research found that by mid-2008, women had acted as suicide bombers 21 times in Iraq’s markets and other civilian venues patronized by Shiites.
Other research has demonstrated that since 2002 women have carried out fully 50 percent of suicide attacks in Sri Lanka, Turkey and Chechnya.
Given women’s increasingly violent roles in jihadist organizations, researchers overlook females as effective killers at our peril.
Chechen women have been so successful as terrorists that Chechen leadership has now shifted to using them more than men. The Sri Lankan terrorist organization Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam managed to kill India’s prime minister in a one-on-one suicide attack because a female terrorist was able to get close to him where a male terrorist might have had more difficulty.
The increasing participation in violence by female jihadists represents, in part, a generational shift in their attitudes toward violence.
In the past, these women seldom went beyond such activities as gun-running, harboring fugitives, fundraising and intelligence ? activities that oiled the terrorist machine and enabled it to operate smoothly but kept women removed from violence.
Now many are no longer content to sit on the sidelines.
Part of the reason male jihadists have accepted more female participation is that terrorist organizations have lost many men through counter-terrorism. As women have volunteered to become suicide bombers, they proved to be highly successful in hiding their bombs ? and their intent to use them ? under religious clothing. A religious woman can deflect her parents’ or husband’s objections by invoking the name of religion, which trumps all.
The new mantra is “even women must fight.”
The U.S. has also produced its female terrorists. “Jihad Jane,” born Colleen R. LaRose, seemed to self-radicalize via the Internet. She recruited a female Muslim convert, Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, who moved with her 6-year-old son to Europe to take part in jihad. LaRose was arrested in 2009 and eventually charged with several terrorism-related crimes. She pleaded guilty to all counts.
Other indictments of U.S. women have linked them to supporting roles in terrorist organizations (including al-Qaida and Hezbollah) in Somalia, Afghanistan, Egypt and Britain.
The women-as-terrorist trend is highly likely to continue. Al-Qaida recently launched an Arabic-language magazine targeting women and urging them to take up the jihadist mantle. As women step up their participation, terrorist-watchers need to keep pace. Terrorism’s “invisible women” need to be counted and countered not only by the U.S., but by all countries that harbor them.
(article by Karla Cunningham)