There have been several moments in the past year that have made me think about the future of terror attacks in Europe (and elsewhere), and the agency of women. In early February, a video was released showing women fighting for Islamic State. The accompanying narrations says “The chaste mujahid woman journeying to her lord with garments of purity and faith, seeking revenge for her religion and for the honor of her sisters imprisoned by the apostate Kurds.” This “Inside the Caliphate” video caused some commotion, as it showed for the first time women in combat for Islamic State.
Around the same time, SITE Intel Group released a letter written by two French women to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, asking his permission to be able to fight and “die in the cause of Allah.” If they get their way, they would join women like those already active in France. Last September, a group of women were arrested following a failed attempt to set off a car bomb near Notre Dame Cathederal in Paris. The three women, said to have been guided by Islamic State, were planning another attack on Gare de Lyon.
And in January, a French woman from Brittany was arrested by the Kurds in Syria. Emilie König was living with Islamic State for five years before her arrest, and is said to be a propagandist and recruiter for the terror group. After her capture, she expressed a desire to return to France. Despite her mother insisting König has shown remorse for her actions, others, including the French state, aren’t so sure.
None of these moments seem to be related, but taken together, are they telling us something?
Previously, Islamic State had forbid women from participating in combat, instead assigning them to roles as propagandists, recruiters, enforcers, and of course, homemakers. As the caliphate shrinks, and members are leaving, there is the concern that attacks will be carried out at home. So far, there hasn’t been much evidence that that is the case, with most attacks in Europe coming from homegrown terrorists. Could it be we see an increase in women as homegrown terrorists in France, and elsewhere in Europe?
Islamic State has long encouraged its supporters to attack at home if they were unable to make it to the caliphate. There have been several who have heeded that call, both inspired by the Islamic State, and attacking in the name of the terror group. The 2015 attacks in Paris seem to have been directed by the group.
The video, the women in Paris, and the letter to al Baghdadi might mean some future attacks might not come from who we think.
Admittedly, it may be a bit of a stretch to say that French or other European women are going to ramp up attacks in Paris or Berlin or London. At the same time, there was a cell of Islamic State-inspired women who attempting one attack in Paris, and were planning another. In her book, ‘I Was Told to Come Alone,’ Souad Mekhennet meets with disillusioned Muslim girls in Germany who had hoped to get away from what they perceived as anti-Muslim attitudes. Emilie König, a recruiter, is hoping to make it back to France. Islamic State seemed to have given permission for women to fight “in every way possible.” Along with the French women who wrote the letter of permission, these are just a sample of the women who believe in the cause. There are, presumably, countless others willing to join the fight. Despite examples to the contrary, women are still thought of as victims of terror groups, lured in by false promises, sexually exploited, or brainwashed. They are still overlooked as active participants in extremist organizations. This is something that could be used to their advantage. We just don’t think a woman could willingly die for a cause such as that of Islamic State.
Women have fought for terrorist groups for ages; Islamic State had forbid it except in very specific circumstances. Now the Islamic State caliphate is collapsing, and there appears to be a change of heart with regards to women in combat. And there are women who are willing to fight and die for the cause. France, with a long history of perceived hostility, is a major target for jihadists. While terror attacks are fairly rare, and an nearly all-boys club, they still do occur, and we must not dismiss that some of the future attacks may just be carried out by women.