April 3, 2018 | War on the Rocks

The Emigrant Sisters Return: The Growing Role of the Islamic State’s Women

In his latest op-ed for War on the Rocks, FDD Senior Fellow Daveed Gartenstein-Ross details the roles of women throughout the timeline of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – highlighting how their role within the organization, specifically in military operations, seemed to increase as the caliphate weakened and eventually collapsed. This, Gartenstein-Ross illustrates, is a stark contrast to the roles previously held by women throughout the life of the caliphate – and this role may continue to grow.

An excerpt from the op-ed follows:

“Women’s involvement in ISIL’s recruitment efforts and, more recently, their increasing participation in militant operations complicate the threat that returning fighters and emigrants pose to the West. As ISIL continues to lose territory, and emigrants return home in greater numbers, Western security services must be wary about falling prey to the positive security bias. Returning female emigrants may play into misperceptions about women’s vulnerability or victimhood by claiming to have been naively lured to ISIL territory. But, once home, women who continue to adhere to the group’s ideology may remain in touch with their online networks, positioning them to serve as recruiters, attack planners, or even operatives.

To avoid being blindsided by women-organized plots and female attackers, the West must consider the unique ways in which returning women may seek to undermine security measures. Since many Western countries have yet to develop consistent legal and social procedures pertaining to the return of ISIL’s emigrants, the probability remains high that some individuals — especially women — will slip through the cracks. As a result, it is possible women will play a larger role in future ISIL-directed or ISIL-inspired operations. Whether their involvement is limited to recruitment, radicalization, facilitation, and communication roles, or includes more active engagement in attack planning, direction, and implementation, we are likely only beginning to see the extent to which women can further ISIL’s efforts after the caliphate has fallen. The positive security bias should not lead us to misjudge this threat.”

Read the full article from War on the Rocks here.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). Follow him on Twitter @DaveedGR.

Follow the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.