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