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IS recruitment could pave way for more female jihadis

Belgian women Tatiana Wielandt and Bouchra Abouallal, each 26, who joined Islamic State in Syria are pictured in Ain Issa, Syria March 10, 2019

Islamic State’s recruitment of women to support its cause could pave the way for more frontline roles for women in jihadi groups, the European Union’s police agency has said.

In the 34-page report, entitled “Women in Islamic State Propaganda”, Europol said “female jihadis are as ideologically motivated as their male counterparts and their sense of empowerment lies in contributing to the building of an Islamic state”.

It concludes that “numerous examples” of women, who either carried out extremist attacks or were arrested preventively, “prove that women are willing to use violence if the ideology allows them to do so. For now, it is not yet their role, but this balance may easily shift according to the organisation’s strategic needs and developments on the ground”.

The report comes amid concerns about the risk posed by foreign fighters, including women, returning to their homes in Europe after the fall of the self-styled Islamic State caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

Europol executive director Catherine De Bolle said 15% of people convicted on “jihadi terrorism charges” in the EU in 2018 were women.

The report’s authors studied propaganda targeting women, but also mentioned women who take active roles in Islamist combat, saying they were sometimes used to shame men into taking part in the armed struggle.

The report cited an example from an Islamic State publication that praised three women who attacked a police station in Mombasa, Kenya, in 2016 and asked what was wrong with men who had “laid down their swords”.

At its peak, in 2014-15, IS controlled an area the size of Britain across Syria and Iraq and launched a series of attacks around the world.

In March, US-backed forces declared victory over IS, but the group’s affiliates in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, Afghanistan and other countries continue to pose a threat, and the group’s ideology has inspired lone-wolf attacks that had little if any connection to its leadership.

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