Volume 9, Issue 08 (August 2017): ‘Women’s Evolving and Diversified Roles in Terrorism and Militancy‘
The participation of women in terrorist organisations of differing categories is increasingly visible in primary (propagandists, recruiters, fighters and suicide bombers) and secondary roles (mothers and wives). Their involvement is not a new phenomenon, as seen in their past and present active participation in ethno-nationalist groups such as the Liberation Tigers of the Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka, left-wing extremist (LWE) groups, such as the Naxalite-Maoist insurgents in India, and religious-nationalist/Islamist groups, such as the so-called Islamic State (IS)-affiliated Jamiatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (Neo-JMB). Beyond, the militant groups covered in this issue, other groups that amassed female membership include, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Chechen Black Widows.
Al Qaeda (AQ), as a transnational jihadist group, has also utilised women for indoctrination and recruitment operations to expand its social support base and increase its female membership. A 2009 AQ communiqué entitled “Risala Ila Al-Akhawat Al-Muslimat (Letter to My Muslim Sisters) by Umayma Hassan Ahmed, the wife of current AQ chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri, encapsulates the roles for women.
The advent of IS in 2014 contributed to an unprecedented increase in the number of women travelling to Iraq and Syria from the West (United Kingdom, Germany, France, Australia, United States and Canada), and South, Southeast and Central Asia, resulting in renewed interest in the subject. More recently in July 2017, IS deployed women as suicide bombers as it fought to regain control of Mosul to showcase its strength and gain tactical advantage against the US-backed Iraqi and anti-IS coalition forces. In addition, IS regularly dedicates a section in its English online magazines, Dabiq (now ceased publication) and Rumiyah to discussing the roles and participation of women in building the so-called ‘caliphate’. More recently, following in IS’ footprints, the umbrella organisation of the Pakistani Taliban groups, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has also issued a magazine for women entitled Sunnat-i-Khaula —The Way of Khaula. The magazine encourages females to join TTP and take up the so-called jihad.
In the case of Islamist terrorist organisations, even though women are absent from leadership positions, they still form a critical support base. One of the key roles female terrorists are assigned includes acting as recruiters on social media to bring in more members (men and women) to support their cause. In mainstream media coverage there is a tendency of reducing female terrorists to gendered roles, depicting the group’s violence in androcentric terms. Not only does this approach undermine the important roles of women in terrorism, but it also overlooks women as violent actors. The articles within this issue affirm that in one Islamist and two non-Islamist terrorist groups, the roles of women have gradually evolved from passive to pensive and peripheral to central.
In the case non-Islamist terrorist organisations like the LWE groups in India and other such groups, women are offered the rhetoric of empowerment and gender equality couched within local dynamics and varied contexts to further their recruitment. However, similar to Islamist terrorist organisations, women are exploited by terrorist organisations for strategic and tactical advantages to the group. They are recruited to increase the group’s support base in numbers, and further the recruitment processes of more women. Also, these terrorist groups tend to deploy women as suicide bombers to increase the shock value of attacks perpetrated. In addition, another benefit attributed to women is that they can pass through high security zones, without physical checks due to the lack of female staff and the general perception that women are unlikely to engage in terrorist attacks.
Specifically, in Islamist terrorist organisations women’s roles are expanding beyond their traditional duties as mothers and wives. In January 2015, Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) announced the creation of the Shaheen Force, the women’s suicide wing training at least 500 female suicide bombers. In April 2015, a video released online showed a group of women, suspected to be IS members, engaging in weapons training in Syria. This suggests a need for broadening counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation efforts to focus on women, who are also likely to perpetrate attacks whilst being influenced by the group’s ideology.
The following articles in this issue of the CTTA focus on the diversity of women’s roles in terrorist groups, women’s motivations for joining such groups as well as the challenges they face: (a) “Women in the Tamil Tigers: Path to Liberation or Pawn in a Game?” by Sara Dissanayake, (b) “Growing Trends of Female ‘Jihadism’ in Bangladesh” by Nazneen Mohsina, and (c) “Roles and Participation of Women in Indian Left-Wing Extremism: From ‘Victims’ to ‘Victimisers’ of Violence” by Akanksha Narain.
This issue also includes a commentary entitled ”Implications of Hambali’s Trial” by Bilveer Singh on the prosecution of a senior Indonesian terrorist leader in the United States and its implications on Jakarta’s internal security and the country’s on-going counter-terrorism and counter-extremism efforts.
Commentaries / Conflict and Stability / South Asia / Southeast Asia and ASEAN / Terrorism Studies
Last updated on 15/08/2017