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Understanding the cult of the female bomber

Last updated on: March 30, 2010 13:22 IST

Understanding the cult of the female bomber

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Vicky Nanjappa
In the last eight years, women suicide bombers have carried out nearly 150 attacks across the world. Rediff.com's Vicky Nanjappa analyses why using women to carry out suicide attacks is being increasingly preferred by outfits like the Al Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Tayiba

T
he Moscow bombings, carried out by two female suicide bombers on Monday, is in line with what security and intelligence agencies have been warning about from time to time.

Ironically, the terror strike in the Russian capital took place barely four days after the British intelligence agency MI6 warned of new tactics being adopted by terrorist organisations regarding the use of female suicide bombers. Indian intelligence agencies say the female suicide bomber is among the primary weapons that terrorist organisations have and that they use her sparingly, often as a last resort.

Of late, the use of female suicide bombers has been on the rise and statistics indicate that over the years, nearly 200 women across the world have been recruited for the job. Agencies point out that it has become easier to recruit women today as compared to five years ago. Click on NEXT to read further...

Image: File photo shows female Palestinian suicide bombers attending a news conference in Gaza
Photographs: Mohammed Salem/Reuters
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Brainwashing women is easier

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The recruitment procedure for females is different from that for men. Around the period when 9/11 was carried out, organisations like the Al-Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Tayiba did not believe in using women as it defied the very meaning of jihad for them. However, things changed following the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The steep rise in recruitment of women bombers since then continues unabated.

According to an IB report, the Al-Qaeda and the Lashkar pick women who have either lost their husbands or sons during a war situation and brainwash them.

The report states that these women go through three months of intense brainstorming sessions until they become completely convinced that revenge by death is the only solution to their problem, and they are primed to do as they are told.


Image: A video grab of Sajida al-Rishawi, who confessed on Jordanian TV to trying to blow herself up
Photographs: Ho New/Reuters
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Nearly 150 attacks in the last 8 years

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Although every terrorist organisation is capable of launching a suicide attack with women in any part of the world, this has been used mostly in Iraq. The year 2008 alone saw 20 such attacks where women were involved.

The IB says that when one looks at the pattern in which the recruitments are now taking place the situation is pretty worrisome. Around two years back, these groups were finding it difficult to find women, but now there are women who volunteer for the job.

Women from both Palestine and Iraq are more than willing to join these outfits, and training and convincing these women is not a big job. When a person volunteers, it only makes the job much easier and the attack deadlier since there is a lot of grit and determination involved. Moreover, while comparing a suicide attack by a man and a woman, the latter has proved more dangerous since they have always been more focused and determined.

Experts say the difference is commitment. Unlike a man, when a woman steps out on a mission she is only thinking of the loss of her son/husband and how she can avenge their loss.

Female suicide bombers have carried out nearly 150 attacks in the last eight years.

Image: Mohammad (Left) and Ganan Najarhai read a booklet about women suicide bombers as they sign up to volunteer as suicide bombers in support of the Palestinian people during an exhibition about Hamas in Tehran
Photographs: Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters
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Why terror outfits prefer women bombers

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Intelligence agencies say that it is hard to deal with this issue, as there are social issues concerned. Despite many warnings, women are checked less and invite suspicion less than men. Given gender issues, security agencies monitoring a high-profile area also need to extremely sensitive when it comes to dealing with women -- which works in favour of the bomber on a mission.

US soldiers face a very similar problem in Iraq. They have been told specifically to not look at the local women, leave alone check them. This has come in handy for terrorist groups who continue to use women in suicide attacks.

In the Kashmir valley too there is expected to be a rise in the use of women bombers.

What the future looks like

The future, according to intelligence agencies, would see more terrorist attacks carried out by women. Although there is no specific intelligence the use of female suicide bombers for India, there is reason to believe that the Al-Qaeda plans to targeting both the UK and the US using women.

However, there has been a change in the pattern for the West, and not a single Arab woman is being used for this operation. The Al-Qaeda has intentionally picked women from the Western countries to carry out this job, as it keeps the suspicion factor low, like Jihad Jane.

The number of women being trained to target Western countries is around 20, agencies say.

Image: Three veiled Palestinian women belonging to the Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigades sit at a press conference at the Baddawi refugee camp in northern Lebanon
Photographs: Reuters Photographer/Reuters
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Terror outfits have different role for Indian women

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The danger from female bombers does not loom over India yet. Although a precedent was set in India with former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's killing, groups such as the Lashkar have not decided to use women bombers in a big way for now. One reason could be that it is harder to recruit women in India as compared to war-torn Arab nations.

It is a different story, however, that women are definitely playing a big role in sponsoring terrorism in India. Women are being used on a smaller scale in India and their job is limited to providing logistical support and recruitment. The IB claims that in places like Azamgarh and Hyderabad, women are actively involved in brainwashing young people to take up jihad.

Over time, the role of women in terrorism has changed. Initially they were asked to provide a safe house for terrorists. From there onwards they were roped in to recruit the youth, and of late they are being used to transport fake currency.

Image: A US soldier stands guard near the wreckage of vehicles after a bomb attack in northern Baghdad
Photographs: Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters
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