Security threat from returning ISIS women

A new report from King’s College London has warned that the number of women and minors returning to Britain from Syria and Iraq has been significantly underestimated.

According to the research, an absence of government data and a changing view within the terrorist group of when women should take up arms means that the threat from women and minors linked to Islamic State is likely to be much greater than official figures suggest.

The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, part of the university, says that women had recently been actively involved in plots across the world, with 13 per cent of the 41,490 foreign citizens who became affiliated with ISIS in Iraq and Syria between April 2013 and June 2018 being women. A further 12 per cent (4,640) were minors.

The first to map out in detail the diverse trajectories of IS foreign affiliates after the fall of the ‘caliphate’, the report finds that 850 British citizens became affiliated with ISIS in Iraq and Syria, including 145 women and 50 minors, but only two women and four children were confirmed as among the 425 British citizens who have returned to the UK.

From Daesh to Diaspora: tracing the women and minors of Islamic State claims that women played a key role in the terrorist operations, far beyond that of being ‘jihadi brides’. This includes recruiting other women, disseminating propaganda and fundraising for the caliphate.

Joana Cook, one of the researchers, said: “The British citizens that have now been confirmed as returning to the UK have not been differentiated by gender, or age delineation, though women and minors accounted for 23 per cent of British ISIS affiliates in Syria and Iraq. We believe some women may now pose a particular security threat based on several factors. These include the physical security roles and related training that some women have undertaken in IS-held territory, and the potential to transfer or apply these skills in other locations, or to their children.

“The narratives within ISIS itself related to women’s roles in combat have also evolved, broadening the circumstances under which women may be asked to take up arms. We have also seen women active in ISIS-linked plots (directed or inspired by the group) in countries such as France, Morocco, Kenya, Indonesia and the US, suggesting that women are indeed important to consider as potential threats.”

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