The use of female suicide bombers by Islamist militant groups in countries such as Iraq, Jordan, Afghanistan and Indian Kashmir has exceeded the traditional constraints that Salafi-Jihadi ideology imposes on women. Observers of jihadi cyber activities have noticed an increase in the number of websites dedicated to mujahidat (female mujahideen), linked either directly or ideologically to al-Qaeda. The physical and spiritual preparation of the mujahidat has recently spread to many jihadi websites.
In their quest to better prepare for jihad against “Zionists” and “crusaders,” it is well known that Salafi-Jihadis are attempting all possible methods to present military training to their followers through secret camps in Afghanistan, Iraq and through literature available on the internet. What might be a new practice for the jihadis is the training of mujahidat. Even though it is not the first time that Muslim females have participated in high profile jihadi operations, Islamist websites have only posted female jihadi training documents recently. Some of the postings are of a non-combatant nature, directed at medical assistance; however, interviews with female mujahidat in Afghanistan, Palestine and elsewhere indicate that female Islamists are being trained for military operations also.
In an interview with a mujahidah in charge of training women in Afghanistan by an Arab Islamic site on March 12, 2003, the woman identified herself by the alias Umm Osama bin Laden (the choice of alias shows her endearment toward Osama bin Laden) and said that women of al-Qaeda had been active in furthering the organization’s cause and managed to stay out of the limelight and scrutiny of the enemy. “The mujahidat are trained in camps in Afghanistan and through the internet,” Umm Osama said, adding that the mujahidat know how to use M16 assault rifles, AK-47’s, hand grenades and pistols. According to Umm Osama, although females are currently tasked with reconnaissance and gathering intelligence, providing logistical support and conveying messages between mujahideen leaders, they have received training on explosives and suicide operations which will be carried out in the future.
The female suicide bombers in Palestine inspired this shift in al-Qaeda’s female jihadi assignments, and these new militants are threatening to perpetrate attacks against the United States. Umm Osama asserts that the female section of al-Qaeda is multinational and reports to Mullah Saif al-Din who, in turn, reports directly to the Taliban and Osama bin Laden (https://www.arabneed.com, March 12, 2003). Even though Umm Osama retracted her adherence to Salafi-Jihadi ideology and allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2005 after being incarcerated by the Saudi authorities and exposed to an ideological modification campaign called Hamlat al-Sakeena (serenity campaign) by the Saudi Ministry of Religion, information she shared with the supervisors of the Serenity Campaign indicates that not all trained mujahidat were dissuaded and quit al-Qaeda.
In the same context, another mujahidat site posted first-aid training for females needed on the battlefield. The writer states that the first-aid medical practices will enable the mujahidat to save the lives of male mujahideen injured on the various jihadi fronts. The training consists of 12 subjects that explain, in brief, how to give injections, how to create stretchers to carry the wounded, how to perform artificial resuscitation, how to apply a tourniquet, how to handle broken bones and how to treat gunshot wounds. The postings are basic and lack practical information. Nevertheless, they could be of use in a battle situation (https://mm5.jeeran.com).
Another jihadi site posted more serious female mujahidat training, used from the materials of the al-Qassam Martyr Brigades in Gaza (https://www.tawhed.ws, August 21, 2005). Albeit no tactical training details were given in the al-Qassam female training report, the posting contains photographs of women, covered from head to toe, training on AK-47 assault rifles and RPG launchers. Furthermore, the resolve and enthusiasm of women to perpetrate suicide bomb attacks was reiterated in a brief interview by a female trainee who was training for the use of explosives and booby traps on the same website. The trainee said, “We consider this hard and dangerous training as worship to God. By implementing this training, we will achieve one of two merits, victory or martyrdom.” She added, “women like Rim are a crown on our heads,” referring to the first Hamas female suicide bomber Rim Salih al-Riyashi, who blew herself up in January 2004 at the Palestinian workers’ terminal at the Erez industrial park checkpoint in Gaza.
It is not an easy task to prepare and send male suicide bombers to their death since it requires convincing them to leave everything behind. Female suicide bombers, moreover, have even more to lose when they take their own lives since they often leave behind orphaned children, such as in the case of al-Riyashi. Therefore, if it takes months of brainwashing through religious lectures in a strictly religious and spiritual environment to prepare male suicide bombers, it may take longer to convince a female to undertake suicide operations. Suicide is forbidden in Islam, but some Islamic authorities are still divided about the legality of suicide when it involves killing enemies in the process. If al-Qaeda is able to increase the number of women engaged in the jihad, counter-terrorism and security forces will need to better prepare for this new threat.