Changing Roles? Women as Terror Threat.

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.

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The Migrant Crisis and the Paris Attacks.

The Syrian refugee-as-terrorist narrative remains uncertain, but the question remains: who is checking the migrants?

In the days following the most recent terror attacks in Paris, details began to emerge regarding the identity of the attackers. Recovered from one of the attackers was a Syrian passport that had been processed through border check points in Greece, Serbia, Croatia, Austria then France. Fingerprints from the remains matched those of someone using the passport in Leros, Greece. The true identity of the man remains a mystery. But that passport, along with Islamic States’ claim of responsibility, seemed to confirm what many people had been thinking during the migrant crisis, that terrorists might be sneaking in with the migrants. Reports have since come out saying the passport was a fake. Some have taken this to mean it was a plant to demonize the migrants, highlighting the xenophobic rhetoric of Europe’sand America’s – right.

There is a legitimate argument to make in voicing concern that not all migrants and refugees are what they appear. Syrians escaping civil war aren’t the only ones pouring into Europe. Migrants from all over the Middle East, South East Asia, and Africa are making their way to Europe in search of everything from peace to better job and family opportunities. But as early as March of this year, there have been concerns that there are more than migrants among their ranks.

Before the focus shifted to the Balkan route, thousands were making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean from North Africa to Italy. Since IS have been establishing themselves in Libya, there have been reports that they would begin using it as a jumping-off point to reach Italy. In May of this year, Libyan security adviser Abdul Basit Haroun made the claim that IS would exploit the migrant crisis by posing as refugees. Supposed IS documents have said that the terror organization intends to send people into Europe under the guise of refugees or migrants. Some European officials have also expressed concern about IS militants slipping through the gaping security holes. It should be noted the recent arrest of the two extremists in Hungary is unrelated to the migrant crisis, though still concerning.

The issue isn’t that a passport of dubious legitimacy was found next to a terrorist in Paris. Criminals – terrorists – use forged documents all the time. Nor is it out of the ordinary for a foreigner to be carrying his passport. Terrorist do ordinary things to blend in to their surroundings, to not tip anyone off that they are about to cause mass casualties. Remember, the September 11 hijackers shaved their beards, wore Western clothes, and partied so they would appear normal, and not as radical, devote Muslims.

No, the issue here is that a fake passport was checked through several checkpoints from Greece through Austria. The sheer number of people flooding into Europe via the Balkan route is overwhelming countries. So many people are arriving that they cannot be processed thoroughly. Officials at processing centers and checkpoints know they are dealing with fake documents and people pretending to be Syrian – Syrians get special status – but, lacking resources, seemingly have no choice but to let them pass. The countries on the routes to Germany and other destinations don’t want to deal with the migrants so they pass them through.

Lacking the resources or will to properly process the migrants and refugees, anyone can get through, including IS militants and other would-be terrorists. Letting the migrants flow through Europe unchecked opens the door for exploitation. IS has said many time that they want to strike Western targets. There are already terror cells and IS sympathizers all over Europe. Raids in Spain, Italy, France and Belgium are increasingly regular events. There is much talk that foreign fighters in Syria returning to Europe could mount attacks.

The bigger threat remains home-grown terrorists; five of the eight Paris attackers were French. The majority of recent terror attacks in Europe have come from individuals who were radicalized in their home countries. This does not mean, however, that the threat of militants coming in or returning via the migrant routes should be ignored. Blocking and turning back migrants is not the answer. More needs to be done in processing the migrants at entry points. Destination countries, like Germany, that are willing to offer millions of euros in aid for migrants should be able to offer aid for checkpoints and processing centers.

There is no perfect solution; there is no 100% guarantee all migrants entering Europe will be properly screened, as there is no guarantee all would-be criminals will be caught upon entry. Putting into place serious measures of screening is a start, and anything is better than the current system. To continue to allow the free flow of migrants into Europe is an open invitation for trouble.