In a U-turn, the ISIS is using more women to evade security measures and spearhead a wave of attacks across Europe and the Islamic world as it loses territory in the Middle East, according to a media report.
Previously, female members of ISIS were confined to support roles and kept away from the battlefield but the policy appears to have been reversed as US-led military pressure on its main strongholds in Iraq, Syria and Libya intensified and substantial territory began to be lost, The Guardian reported.
It said researchers have described a “drastic U-turn” on deploying female recruits, a new tactic that poses a challenge for security organisations which already have difficulty penetrating extremist networks and identifying potential attackers.
Officials have repeatedly warned that ISIS would launch attacks as it retreated from earlier gains. Since August, a series of plots involving women have been uncovered by security authorities in Europe and north Africa, the report said and mentioned a plot in Paris in September involving four women aged 19-39 that received wide media coverage.
The cell, organised by a known ISIS militant in France, was the first to be entirely female, the report said.
“If at first it appeared that women were confined to family and domestic chores by the terrorist organisation, it must be noted that this view is now completely outdated,” French prosecutor Francois Molins told reporters after the four were arrested.
The report also mentioned a series of other plots around the world, which involve women playing “combat” roles, that received less attention. For instance, ISIS was in August reported to have deployed at least one female suicide bomber in Libya, while last month 10 alleged female attackers were arrested in Morocco.
Officials said all were in their teens, had sworn allegiance to ISIS and were in possession of bomb-making material.
Abdelhak Khiame, who leads Morocco’s Central Bureau of Judicial Investigations, said the women, believed to have been planning a series of suicide attacks, “got in touch with (ISIS) elements via the internet and were brainwashed into committing destructive acts targeting… tourist sites in particular”.
“This is the first time we have found a terrorist cell that was entirely composed of women. Terrorists are focusing (recruitment) efforts on minors who are female. That is very worrying for all of us. It’s an alarm bell,” Khiame said.
“It’s a concern… There is constant evolution as the pressures on (ISIS) increase, so we are not complacent,” said a western European security official.
“Thus far, ISIS has stifled the role of women in the ‘caliphate’ by limiting them to the house, ensuring they raise the next generation of jihadi militants and provide for their husbands,” said Rachel Bryson of the Centre on Religion and Geopolitics here.
The recent change “would suggest the group is starting to heavily feel the pressure from the action taken against it”, Bryson said.