Women's role in terrorism alarms EU

EUROPE: Females involved in everything from suicide bombings to logistics


By Jason Burke

Monday, August 4, 2008, NZ Herald


European intelligence chiefs have launched a major investigation into the threat posed by female Islamic militants within the EU, whose involvement they say runs from logistics or propaganda to suicide bombing.


“This phenomenon has not been really taken into account yet and we need to explore and understand it,” said one diplomat connected with the probe. “It is a new strategy by al Qaeda.”


 The moves follow a spate of attacks in the Middle East by women bombers and concerns among European security services about increased radicalization of female militants. The officials specifically cite Britain and North Africa as problem areas.


Women’s involvement in recruiting volunteers is a key concern


Though the only known European female suicide bomber was Muriel Degauque, a 38-year-old convert from Belgium who killed herself in Iraq in 2005, European security officials said services were monitoring dozens of women involved in logistics or propaganda. There are also fears of women bombers being sent from overseas, particularly North Africa.


“The problem is knowing who is just fundraising or running websites, who is recruiting and who is a potential bomber,” said on French intelligence specialist. “Then how do you pick up someone coming in from outside the EU? That’s hard to do.”


Gilles de Kerchove, European counterterrorism co-ordinator, has asked British, French, Spanish, German and other security services to pool their intelligence through Brussels’ strategic analyst unit, the Joint Situation Centre, to produce a report by the northern autumn.


“The issue is a very high priority,” one EU official said.


In Britain, the involvement of women in militant activities has been limited. Yet security services fear that this may not last.


“Time and again we have seen al Qaeda trying tactics in one place and, if they work, trying them again elsewhere,” said the French specialist.


Women bombers have become relatively common in Iraq because they can more easily penetrate much-tightened security. They elicit less suspicion, can hide explosives under their clothes, and male soldiers are unwilling to search them.


In Algeria, according to security sources, the “al Qaeda in the Maghreb group” now use women in bombing campaigns.


“Women are largely responsible for support material: medicine, food, clothes,” said one. “But some have more major roles. Last year we dismantled a logistical network run by a woman.”


The source said militants “seek to recruit women with a brother, father or son already with the extremist groups”.


Expert say this may be because, in traditional Islamic societies, women without close male relatives are exposed to economic and social problems that make them more vulnerable to recruitment.


In Iraq, US intelligence officers say militants are marrying women then allowing them to be raped knowing that the subsequent dishonor will make them easier to groom as bombers. The officers have also noted women who have had relatives killed in the fighting turning to violence.


The issue is not without controversy in militant circles. Recent statements by al Qaeda deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri that women should restrict themselves to caring for the homes and children of male fighters provoked an outcry on extremist websites.


A Taleban spokesman has denied an American news report that Zawahiri might have been killed or wounded in a missile strike in Pakistan’s border region last week.


“Zawahiri has been killed by them several times, but once again this is baseless,” Maulvi Omar told Reuters from an undisclosed location.


US broadcaster CBS said it had obtained an intercepted letter from Pakistani Taleban commander Baitullah Mehsud requesting urgent medical help for Zawahiri, who was in “severe pain” with infected wounds.


-Observer, additional reporting Telegraph Group Limited


6 thoughts on “Women's role in terrorism alarms EU

  1. RT213

    Firstly i disagree with war in every way, shape or form but I also believe that it is a very strategic move to start using women in their fight. A woman should not be refined to the house and if she decides that she wants to fight a war that she believes in then I think she has that right. I wouldn’t want a man to stop me joining the army just because I am a woman. Obviously it would be better if there was no war at all and I am not advocating war in any way, I just believe that everyone should be able to have a chance to fight for what they believe in. If they decide that blowing themselves up is the way to help their cause then men and women should be allowed to do that…..

  2. jtrue

    Does more women being involved in terrorism signal something really dire – that violence and terror really is endemnic? Could it be that Al Quaeda has become a sort of feminist organisation – open to all, women and men or do you think that US intelligence has a better explanation – women being tortured, raped, dishonoured and left with nothing more than to kill themselves and others? Should the EU be so concerned – or does this just reflect their patronising ways? Jacqui 213

  3. eleanor213

    i think that the interest in the ‘phenomenon’ of female suicide bombers and other women involved in war is slightly patronising, as it seems to endorse the idea that women are the bastions of civilisation and if they are ‘corrupted’ by the manly pursuits of wrafare and combat then the world is a less civilised and safe place. That said, i am concerned by the thought of ANYONE being involved in warfare, particularly suicide bombing because it seems to only perpetuate a cyclic view of war (i blow up your people, you blow up mine….). I think the issue of women becoming martyrs is significant in a discussion of women wanting to fight for their cause, despite any discrimination, and i would support this in a non-violent sphere. the desire to defend a cause is a common one, and it is not suprising that women in such a high pressure zone as Iraq find a way to do it.

  4. Rachel Skeates

    The Al Quaeda Muslim fundamentalist terrorist attacts are in part a reaction against the ‘oppression’ of the western social structure, in particular the position that women hold, on musilm societies as a result of globalisation.
    The presence of women officers in the U.S. military camps on Iraq soil has distrubed many Musliums, who see the presence of woman in these situations as decreasing the masculinity of male soliders. Clearly in Islam, a woman is not a defender.. it breaks Muslium social constructions of masculinity and femininity.
    Osama Bin Laden said “Our brothers who fought in Somalia saw the wonders about the weakness, feebliness, and cowardliness of the US soldier.. [We] believe that we are men, Muslim men who must have the honour of defending [Mecca]. We do not want American woman soldiers defending [it]… The rulers in that region have been deprived of their manhood… By God, Muslim women refuse to be defended by these American and Jewish prostitutes”.
    In Islam, women operate in the private, not public sphere. The idea of women holding equal power and using it to create security or simply actively engage in the public sphere were some of the western philosophies that Al Quaeda fights against. Perhaps i was wrong in this belief, because it seems counter-active to me, that Al Quaeda is now breaking the norms of its own social structure by enabling women to engage in direct combat as suicide bombers?

  5. hatty(213)

    To me the most worrying part of this “phenomenon” is what motivated the Al Qaeda to change their gendered tradition and culture and have their women involved in the first place. Is this that they felt no more precious male lives should be wasted in suicide bombing or is this that they wanted to show the Western world that they are not afraid of sending women to the battlefield for their cause? Even worse, what has driven the women to becme suicide bombes? Is this a voluntary act or result of indirect/direct coercion, threat to life?
    With these questons unanswered, I cannot open my arms wide open and greet this change with an honest pleasure.
    I also believe these questions are the reason the EU is “surprised” at the new female involvement in terrorism. It is not the “female” involvement per se that is surprising but why and what caused this change in a strictly gendered society as the Muslim is both surprising and worrying.

  6. RT213

    I think it is quite patronising of the EU to be so concerned about female suicide bombers. I seriously doubt that Al Queda has become a feminist movement. I think it is more likely that they have just noticed that women are not searched as well and that they can get into places that men couldn’t necessarily get into. The rape and torture that the women have to endure to become a suicide bomber is probably seen as a means to an end. For those men who see the cause as the ultimate then putting their wives or female acquaintances through such a thing would not phase them at all. But this obviously doesn’t make it right….

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