Female participation in Terrorism: On the Rise
Shila Ahmed Kabir
Our society sees women as mothers, sister, daughters; gentle beings incapable of initiating violence or harming others. The image comes from seeing women as caregivers in most of our lives. However, this widely popular mindset cannot be more wrong. Women, as individual beings, are very capable of choosing and initiating violence and often do so for the wrong reasons, just as their male counterparts do. Terrorism, although commonly perceived as a man’s field, is not completely devoid of women. In fact, women’s involvement in terrorism is on the rise, in Bangladesh and abroad.
Women have joined and actively participated in terrorist organizations of the past. For example: women joined Ku Klux Klan, an extreme white supremacist movement that aimed at ‘purifying’ America by killing Black citizens and massacring entire families that opposed them. Dr. Karla Cunningham, a researcher and expert of political and extreme terrorism opined in an interview that women in terrorism first came to be noticed when Wafa Idris, a Palestinian woman blew herself up in front of shoe-store in 2002. A suicide bomber named Reem Riyashi killed 4 people while passing through a checkpoint at the Erez Checkpoint between Gaza and Israel in 2004. A woman, who was never identified, killed 46 in a suicide bombing among Shia pilgrims in Baghdad in 2010. Another female suicide bomber took the lives of 45 women and children in Pakistan when she detonated a bomb in front of a World Food Programme distribution center in 2010. Two Russians terrorists, Dzhanet Abdulayeva and Maryam Sharipova, members of a group called, “Black Widows”, killed 38 people during their suicide bombing at a Moscow underground train station. Female Islamist Chechen suicide bombers are called ‘Black Widows’ as a group, and have been involved in incidents of terrorism such as the ‘Moscow theater hostage crisis’ in 2002. The said incident ended in the death of 170 hostages out of the 850 people who were held inside. Tashfeen Malik and her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook killed 14 people at a house party in America in 2015. These incidents demonstrate that woman have not been absent from the world’s terrorism scene.
These incidents did not fail to attract the attention of media and law enforcement agencies. UK newspaper agency Independent published an article titled “Record number of suspected female terrorists arrested last year, figures show” a month ago. The article elaborates that although the total number of suspected terrorist arrests have been going down in recent years, the number of suspected female terrorist arrests has been on the rise.
In a paper titled ‘Female Terrorists in ISIS, Al Qaeda and 21st Century Terrorism’ by Dr. Anne Speckhard, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and
Security Studies at Georgetown University, reasons that might motivate women to commit acts of terrorism have been illustrated. She used the phrase ‘Lethal Cocktail of Terrorism’ to illustrate how both men and women get involved with terrorist communities. She notes that being with a group that is willing to use terrorism for political gain, having an ideology that terrorism is justified, if not called for, having social support for terrorism and living inside conflict zones act as motivations for both men and women to become terrorists. Usually even harmless women living in conflict zones witness the mindless slaughter of their family member and especially their children, which gives them a single minded goal to exact revenge on the people who they see as responsible for these deaths. According to Dr. Speckhard, the women living outside conflict zones may choose to become terrorists for the following reasons: “feelings of discrimination, marginalization, frustrated aspirations, a desire to be heroic, to escape a dreary home or work life, to overcome shame, to find a purpose, to belong, for personal significance, life meaning, adventure and even romance.” The paper further explains why female terrorists are used by terrorist organizations: women bombers attract more media attention and easily slip past security as they are commonly perceived as ‘harmless’. The recent Gulshan Attack and attempted bombing at the Sholakia Eid Gah on Eid day has pushed the country into a horrific realization that terrorism has taken the form of a massive threat to Bangladesh. Ruma Akhtar, a 22 year old woman, was picked up from her home in Narsinghdi by the police on July 22. She was arrested on suspicion of being involved with the Gulshan Attack. Jannati, also known as Jemy (18), Sajida Akter (22), and Rozina Begum (30), three women suspected to be members of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen (JMB) were arrested on July 7. While raiding a den of JMB, the police arrested another 4 women who are being suspected of being involved with the militant organization. A woman was seen carrying a heavy bag in the CCTV footage of the area around the Holey Artisan Bakery of Gulshan, which indicates that women operatives of JMB may have been involved in the attack. This attests that women are becoming an active part of terrorism in Bangladesh. Due to this reason, women’s hostels and messes have fallen under the scrutiny of law enforcement agencies as well.
Whether we speak in national or international terms, more and more women are getting lost in the abyss of terrorism. These women are driven towards militancy just like men are and for the same reasons. It is time we recognize this facet of terrorism and take action to prevent women from getting lured into membership of terrorist organizations.