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How the Islamic State Has Expanded the Role of Women in Jihad and What That Means For the Future of Jihad – Part Two

By Lydia Khalil

25 June 2019

Global Islamic State Terrorism and Women

Female participation in IS terrorism has not been confined to the theatres of Syria, Iraq, and Libya. Women have been involved in, planned, and perpetrated terrorist attacks around the world since the inception of the Islamic State.

Islamic State held a particular appeal for Western women. Some reports claim close to 20 per cent of the organisation’s Western recruits were women, higher than any other jihadist group to date.[84]

In Europe the numbers are striking. Between 2014 and 2018, there were 33 separate plots involving women in European countries.[85] There was a significant uptick in terrorism-related arrests of women over that period, from 96 arrests in 2014 to 171 in 2015, 180 in 2016 and 123 in 2017.[86] France has been particularly problematic. It produced more foreign fighters proportionally than any other Western country, and French authorities estimated in 2016 that 40 per cent of young French people who travelled to Syria were females.[87]

The first all-female IS cells emerged in France in 2014, connecting via social media.[88] Two girls aged 15 and 17 were arrested in August 2014 for conspiring to carry out a suicide bombing against a synagogue in Lyon.[89] In 2016, another all-female cell (two members of which were engaged to male jihadists who had previously carried out attacks in France) attempted several attacks over the span of a few days, including against the Notre Dame cathedral. In the course of their arrest, one of them stabbed a police officer.[90] All of the women had attempted to travel to Syria but had been stopped by authorities. Undeterred, they directed their efforts against their home country instead.[91]

In many cases they were encouraged and guided by male counterparts. However, they independently took matters into their own hands, inspired by propaganda such as that of Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, former IS spokesman and head of external operations, who said in an audio message recorded before Ramadan in 2016: “the smallest act you do in their heartland is better and more enduring to us than the biggest act done here. If one of you hoped to reach the Islamic State, we wish we were in your place to punish the Crusaders day and night.”[92]

While Australian women have been slower to heed Islamic State’s call mobilising them to violence than have men (roughly 40 Australian women migrated to the caliphate), those women are becoming more involved, compared with women’s involvement in other jihadist conflicts.[93] As well as Momena Shoma, other women such as Alo-Bridget Namoa have been convicted of engaging in preparation of a terror attack.[94] Australian women such as Jabar and Duman have also acted as “social influencers, facilitators, enablers and supporters”.[95]

There are numerous other cases of women in the West self-radicalising, attempting unsuccessfully to travel to join the caliphate, and plotting attacks on their home territory. An all-female cell, a mother and two daughters, planned knife attacks near the UK Parliament. One of the women, Safaa Boular, was groomed by Australian Shadi Jabar,  who proved to be a prolific networker before her death by a Coalition drone strike in 2016.[96] In Germany, a 16-year-old was convicted of stabbing a police officer at a train station.[97] There was also a successful 2015 suicide attack in Istanbul by an 18-year-old widowed, pregnant Russian woman who had previously lived in Syria with her husband who had fought for Islamic State.[98]

One of the deadliest attacks orchestrated by a woman was the 2015 San Bernardino shooting in California, in which Tashfeen Malik and her husband killed 14 people in a small arms ambush attack. US officials now understand that Malik, not her husband, was the driving force behind the attack.[99] She had previously posted online about her commitment to Islamic State, but those posts were not seen by US officials who later admitted potential vulnerabilities in the screening process for visa applicants, like Malik, seeking residency in the United States.[100] Malik and her husband were killed in a police shootout after the attacks, orphaning their six-month-old child. The group later praised Malik for her attack.[101]

Africa and Asia have also been targets of female IS terrorists. In addition to the female suicide bombers of Boko Haram, other African women have plotted and committed attacks. In Mombasa Kenya in 2016, three women who had pledged allegiance to Islamic State set off a petrol bomb inside a police station and stabbed an officer before being killed by police. Originally thought to be the work of al-Shabaab, this was the first claim of an attack by female IS-inspired jihadists in Kenya.[102] Morocco also saw its first female-only cell, a group of ten teenage girls under 18 who were in touch with IS elements over the internet and had explosives in their possession before the cell was dismantled.[103]

Tunisia has been the largest source of IS foreign fighters in Syria and Libya, and more than 100 Tunisian women have been arrested in Tunisia since 2015 for a variety of terror-related offences.[104] It is unsurprising then that Tunisia had a female suicide bomb attack in 2018, when a grenade detonated by the self-radicalised Mouna Guebla in central Tunis injured at least 20 people.[105] However, because Guebla had not travelled to IS-controlled territory, she was not on the security services’ radar.

The 2019 Sri Lanka Easter bombings, the deadliest terrorist attack ever claimed by Islamic State, also featured a woman suicide bomber. Fatima Ibrahim, the pregnant wife of one of the other bombers, detonated a bomb that killed her and three children, as well as three police, during a raid on the family home in the days after the church bombings.[106] She was part of a tight-knit family cluster that planned and participated in the attacks,[107] a growing trend which has stymied counterterrorism efforts. Family units can reinforce radicalisation and are better able to hide their intentions and maintain operational secrecy.

Perhaps the most shocking example of the expanded profile of IS jihadists was the Surabaya bombings, in which three families associated with IS affiliate Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) strapped explosives on themselves and their children and attacked churches and police stations killing 30 people in May 2018.[108]

Islamic State’s territorial losses and military defeats in Syria do not seem to have dampened its appeal in Indonesia. In March 2019, as fighters in Baghouz lost their last territory in Syria, a JAD-affiliated mother and son committed a home-grown suicide attack during a stand-off with police at their North Sumatra home.[109] The rise of JAD and the evolving combat role of Indonesian women and their families in JAD have provoked a significant escalation of the terror threat in Indonesia, which had previously been focused on male militancy.

These various cases indicate that Islamic State’s call for an obligatory combat role for women was presaged by a range of female recruitment, security and enforcement roles and functions in place prior to IS territorial and battlefield losses. Women were already involved in other security operations in the caliphate; IS affiliates had already used women as suicide bombers and combatants; women outside the conflict zone who were inspired by Islamic State initiated attacks in their home countries, and women were active in online jihad. All these circumstances normalised the idea of a greater combat role for women, which Islamic State then formalised by its declaration of obligatory female engagement in violent jihad.

Recently surfaced documents from the IS delegate committee (the organisation’s main decision-making body) indicate that the policy of females in combat was accepted at Islamic State’s highest levels. In a statement critiquing IS strategy and operations as being instrumental in its losses, Syrian member of the IS Shura council[110] Abu Abd al-Malek al-Shami argued that the decision to mandate women’s combat roles was not only correct, but came too late, and that IS losses could have been stemmed with more women in active military roles, among other strategic and tactical adjustments.[111]

Women, Islamic State Resurgence, and Global Jihad

In some ways, Islamic State’s declaration of obligatory women’s combat has now been rendered largely moot. The caliphate has been defeated. There have been few reports of female suicide bombers in Syria or of women fighting in Baghouz, the last remaining IS stronghold.[112] There is no way to verify whether the women depicted fighting in an IS propaganda video released in February 2018 were in fact women or men dressed in niqab. There is no evidence of an influx of women participating in military operations or suicide missions in the Syria-Iraq theatre. The majority of IS women and children were evacuated and detained by the Iraqi government or by Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in makeshift camps; 70 000 or more people are now in the Al Hol refugee camp, around 10,000 of them foreign, most of them women and children and many of them IS supporters.[113]

Yet while the caliphate may be no longer, Islamic State is far from a spent force. As Islamic State shifts from governance project to global terrorist and insurgent force, women will play an important role in its resurgence and transformation.[114]

According to recent US government reports, “ISIS remains an active insurgent group in both Iraq and Syria. If Sunni socio-economic, political, and sectarian grievances are not adequately addressed by the national and local governments of Iraq and Syria it is very likely that ISIS will have the opportunity to set conditions for future resurgence and territorial control ... [IS] retains excellent command and control capability.”[115] While IS holdouts of mainly foreign fighters may have made a last stand in Baghouz, the organisation had made a strategic retreat and a pivot back to an insurgency since the fall of Mosul in 2017, if not before.[116]

Women appear to be a part of this resurgence strategy. There are reports that women have been recruited or compelled to act as couriers, go-betweens, and weapons smugglers since the fall of Mosul. They have been transporting supplies from groceries to home-made bombs to male fighters biding their time underground. Women are also reportedly used as communications links between desert/rural-based IS cells and IS networks in villages and camps.[117] And female combatants have been a regular presence since the fall of Mosul.[118]

Perversely, the conservative cultural norms around gender in Iraq and Syria have allowed Islamic State to take advantage of its ‘progressive’ stance on female participation in jihad. In rebuilding an underground insurgency in Iraq and Syria, the use of women is an advantage because they are subject to much less security scrutiny. They are allowed to move more freely in heavily policed areas; they pass through checkpoints without being searched, and unlike men, garner little suspicion when they enter government buildings or assemble in groups.

Iraqi and Syrian forces do not have adequate security forces or procedures to deal with these women. Judge Raid Hamid, a judge in Mosul’s terrorism court, says, “In an eastern society it is difficult for us to track, interrogate and arrest women.” Because of the segregation of sexes in Muslim societies, there are few female security forces available to search women at checkpoints or interrogate them. There are few women police officers and none working in combat roles in the army or special operations forces in Iraq.[119]

Islamic State still views women as critical to the long-term survival of the organisation in their roles as wives, mothers, and indoctrinators of the next generation of jihad. In the words of one IS supporter smuggled out of Syria back to her home country: “We will bring up strong sons and daughters and tell them about the life in the caliphate. Even if we hadn’t been able to keep it, our children will one day get it back.”[120]

Women were integral to the migration of entire families to the caliphate. Mothers brought and conceived children into the caliphate where they were subjected to a robust and methodical indoctrination infrastructure. Books and pamphlets instructed women on how to bring up children in the jihad and transfer skills and ideological beliefs, including by telling bedtime stories about ‘martyrs’, showing them jihadi propaganda, and encouraging them to play with guns.[121]

Many of the women who surrendered in Baghouz and are currently detained in SDF camps remain unapologetically committed supporters of Islamic State. They view their primary role as raising the next generation of jihadists to outlast territorial defeat and ensure the long-term survival of the caliphate project. Women in these camps reportedly claimed that Islamic State ordered them to surrender, to bide their time, until the group rises again. This explains in part the lack of women fighters, even after the declaration of obligatory female combat. [122]

Many of these women have also continued their enforcement of IS norms inside the Al Hol camp. A group of IS female supporters reconstituted the hisba force and have stoned, spat on and brandished knives against those they consider impious, even burning down their tents. They have threatened women who denounced Islamic State and have coerced others into joining their efforts. [123]

In addition to sustaining an insurgency in Iraq and Syria, an essential component of Islamic State’s long-war strategy will be to continue a global terror campaign.[124] Foreign female fighters, who are particularly strident and committed, are likely to feature in this strategy. Female IS returnees are posing a particular challenge to counterterrorism officials who had been preparing for an influx of male foreign fighters. Instead, women and children are the ones presenting problems: they may not have participated in combat but some have weapons skills, and still more have received some form of weapons training. Many remain committed to the cause and have been instructed to prepare for Islamic State’s future – either by indoctrinating the next generation or by participating in future attacks.[125]

Islamic State’s declaration of women’s obligatory role in jihad may have been intended for a particular moment — when the group was in a defensive crouch. However, it could also signal a more permanent shift in the role of women within the organisation. The group’s intentions have been kept purposely vague. Although it declared women’s participation in jihad as obligatory, it has not compelled its female members to fight, nor has it chided any of its Wilayats, or provinces, for not making fuller use of women as combatants.

Instead, the instances of IS women taking part in combat operations have been the result of localised decision-making. Among certain cohorts and branches women did take up combat jihad, and others did not, instead leaning on the traditional role of women as the bearers of future generations and as a means to the caliphate’s revival. Islamic State has a history of tailoring its propaganda and messaging to various constituencies, and the pronouncement on the role of women is no different. It has allowed a diversity of views and expressions of jihad within the organisation. However, with the normalisation of women in security and combat functions, the Rubicon has been crossed. Islamic State has led the way in evolving the role of women in jihad, and now other jihadist groups are echoing the call for women to take up direct combat.

Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), for example, has mimicked Islamic State’s call for women to participate in jihad. In August 2017, TTP issued a new English-language propaganda piece in its first direct appeal to women to participate in violent operations.[126] This portends a shift in the jihadist landscape in the Af-Pak region, one with a long-standing jihadist insurgent presence but where women have traditionally played a comparatively small role in combat. Now, with the normalisation of women in combat, jihadist groups are seeking to exploit a “largely untapped female operative market”. [127]

Yet, the other jihadist lodestar, al-Qaeda, has not followed Islamic State, and the role of women in jihad is an important point of contention and difference between the two groups. In Syria, women trying to join al-Qaeda’s affiliated groups were largely rebuffed, with al-Qaeda’s social and ideological norms proscribing women in combat at least for the time being.

Despite this, the potential of women in Islamic State and within the Salafi jihadist movement as a whole has been underestimated and is expanding. The use of women in combat roles has shifted from a mere tactical response to a more permanent feature. Women have become agents, facilitators, and promoters of jihad as much as men. In an IS resurgence, this means they present a powerful potential force.

Counterterrorism Implications

The greater role of women, and potentially their children, in jihad poses distinct and unique challenges to policymakers and counterterrorism efforts around the world. This has implications for four key policy areas: (1) repatriation; (2) sentencing; (3) rehabilitation; and (4) counterterrorism assistance.


One of the most pressing policy issues is the processing of foreign fighter females currently held in Kurdish and Iraqi custody. After the defeat of the caliphate, many of these women have requested to return to their countries of origin with their children, and SDF forces are eager to be rid of them. However, their countries, particularly Western ones, are reluctant to repatriate them.

Australia is no exception. Save the Children estimates that there are about 70 Australians in Al Hol camp, at least 30 of them children and 22 of them under 10 years old.[128] Many of the women, including Duman, have requested via media interviews or via family members, to return to Australia. A recent Four Corners investigative report detailed the extraordinary efforts of Karen Nettleton to repatriate her grandchildren, the children of Khaled and Tara Sharrouf, back to Australia.[129] At the time of publication, eight Australian children of foreign fighters, including five members of the Sharrouf family, had been rescued from the northern Syrian camps.[130]

While Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the decision to repatriate the children was not made “lightly”, he also said that he “would not allow any Australian to be put at risk”.[131] ,The Australian Government has stated that it would not expend resources or offer assistance in repatriating Australian IS supporters.[132] Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has cited national security reasons in arguing that these women should be dealt with “as far from our shores as possible”.[133] Australian legislation allows the government to strip Australian citizenship from dual nationals, thus avoiding responsibility for them. The government has also introduced Temporary Exclusion Orders preventing Australians involved in terrorism abroad from legally returning to Australia for up to two years and setting specific conditions for their return.[134]

Male foreign fighters have traditionally faced intense scrutiny, whereas returnee women, especially mothers, have benefited from a positive security bias. Many of the female IS supporters in custody claim to have been merely housewives and mothers. However, this is a potential misrepresentation of their roles, and many could present a security risk to Australia if allowed to return.

It will be very difficult to assess the true risk these women pose to society without a thorough assessment of women’s roles incorporated in government risk and threat assessments.[135] Prosecutions are problematic, not least because of the difficulty of obtaining sufficient admissible evidence. Even if returnees are tried and convicted for terrorism offences, they present a radicalisation risk both in and outside of prison. Monitoring these individuals would require significant government resources, and the prospects of rehabilitation are uncertain. It makes a certain sense to keep these women at a distance.

Yet leaving women to fester in refugee camps or handing them over to an already overwhelmed and inadequate Iraqi criminal system carries its own set of risks, including the risk of further radicalisation.[136] Recent news reports have detailed dire conditions in the Al Hol camp, with poor sanitation, lack of access to services, and an imposing radical IS cohort still enforcing IS rules, forming an unofficial “ISIS mafia”.[137] There are serious health and safety risks at these camps to the women and their children[138] and these conditions can serve as fuel for further and continuing radicalisation.[139]

Ironically, by stripping the citizenship of IS supporters and blocking or delaying their repatriation, countries are also inadvertently stoking the IS narrative that the nation state identity is irrelevant and that the caliphate is the only true and just polity for Muslims. The longer these women remain in the camps with no access to rehabilitation or justice, the greater the likelihood of further radicalisation or plotting. Leaving IS supporters in Syrian or Iraqi custody or in refugee camps enables them to network and plot out the future of their jihadist movement and radicalise others; Islamic State itself was created by former Iraqi Baathists and insurgents in detention in Camp Bucca in Iraq in the early 2000s.

The choice of whether to repatriate foreign fighter women, therefore, is a choice between bad and worse. Despite the risks that female IS supporters pose upon their return to Australian soil, these are on balance outweighed by the risks of not repatriating them. They should be returned to their countries of origin to be tried, potentially convicted, monitored and possibly rehabilitated.

Additionally, many of these women are mothers and there are implications for their children. Children who were brought to or born in Syria are double victims. They were traumatised by their experiences in a war zone and are now experiencing the price of their parent’s decisions.

In order to conduct an effective repatriation program, however, it is essential these women and their children have a community to return to. Government needs to identify and thoroughly consult with potential community partners before making any reintegration efforts. The success of any reintegration efforts will hinge on this alone.


A significant factor in the prosecuting and sentencing of female jihadists is the prevailing perception of female agency. Women tend to receive more lenient treatment in the criminal justice system,[140] based on false assumptions about their limited agency.[141]

In Sydney, Alo-Bridget Namoa and Sameh Baydeh have been sentenced over their plot to rob non-Muslims on New Year's Eve 2015, and then using those funds to carry out further IS-inspired violence. They were sentenced to four years each,[142] the shortest sentence imposed for conspiracy to committee acts of terrorism. The short sentences are partly a result of Namoa and Baydeh renouncing their beliefs and assisting authorities. But youth and gender may also have been a factor.

Many women who have returned from the caliphate have received pardons or lesser sentences.[143] Assumptions about women and violence and a misconstrued understanding of women’s roles in jihad could mean that many of these women may not be held properly accountable for their actions. With female involvement in violent jihad likely to increase, the justice system must adjust.

In the words of one analyst: “Case documents [show] gendered arguments of women as ‘misled victims’, ‘unknowing’, ‘terrified’, ‘emotional’, ‘seduced’, ‘lured’ and ‘brainwashed’ … and ‘naïve’. Women are continually infantilized and sexualized; their agency is narrated to a minimum, and they are represented as misunderstood victims, rather than as motivated agents.”[144]

This is contradicted by what is now known of women’s direct and varied roles in Islamic State. Many, particularly foreign women, joined the group of their own volition and free will. Their motivations were political, religious, and ideological. Their support of Islamic State had the same push and pull factors as that of men.[145]

The definition of ‘participation’ or ‘support’ of a terrorist organisation must be expanded to account for the full contribution of women in jihad, accounting for the essential state-building tasks these women performed – including supporting combatants, educating recruits and transporting supplies – and not just the recruiting and propagandist work. Absent other mitigating factors, women’s crucial domestic, educational and other enabling influence should also be considered as ‘support’ (as Islamic State itself does), and charges and sentencing should reflect this.[146]


The recent United Nations Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee trends report confirms that while women tend to receive more lenient treatment in criminal justice systems, they also “tend to receive more limited rehabilitation and reintegration support, thus putting them at potentially greater risk of recidivism and re-radicalization and potentially undermining their successful reintegration into society”.[147] New deradicalisation efforts must be tailored for women to acknowledge their shifting role in jihad.

This means a significant shift in the way women are viewed in deradicalisation, rehabilitation, and in counterterrorism efforts more generally. Women and families have often been viewed as potentially powerful and positive deterrents against extremism. The opposite is also now true. Women and families serve to radicalise as well as insulate. Any approach to countering violent extremism must take this into account.

Counterterrorism assistance

Jihadism is a global movement and a global concern. Therefore Australia must not only adjust its own counterterrorism polices in light of the greater role for women in Islamic State and other jihadist organisations, but it also must review its international counterterrorism assistance. Counterterrorism efforts and counterterrorism assistance can no longer be gender-blind.

More female security officers need to be trained in order to overcome gaps, such as security screening, which jihadist groups can exploit by using their female adherents. Female security officers are needed in gender segregated societies to conduct searches, obtain intelligence from populations that men do not have access to, and to improve community policing efforts.

Australia must also support female-centred countering violent extremism and counter radicalisation programming and fund programs that are not only tailored towards women, but ones in which women are a part of their construction, administration, and delivery.

Australia should prioritise programs in which women are integrated in terrorism prevention and security services.[148]


Islamic State has expanded the way women participate in jihad. There must therefore be a corresponding shift in the way counterterrorism services view the radicalisation of women and the threat they pose on returning from IS-held territory. Right now, counterterrorism authorities need to contend with a complex threat environment after the fall of the caliphate. The reappearance of IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in a recorded video appearance for the first time in five years, signals a globally focused IS resurgence in which women will play a part.[149]

Many female foreign fighters remain ideological adherents, recruiters, logisticians, attack planners and operatives who will form an important part of an IS resurgence. Female returnees could serve to radicalise others in their home countries and form critical connections between the large cohort of foreign fighters and new adherents.

Women in IS-affiliate organisations around the world may continue to inspire other women, and work to remobilise men, even while the former incarnation of Islamic State is largely defunct. A more networked extremist organisation is likely to survive. While men may be overrepresented in extremist organisations, “women emerge with superior network connectivity that can benefit the underlying system’s robustness and survival”.[150]

There are thousands of foreign fighter women, including Australians, seeking to return to their country of origin. Yet our assumptions and biases can obstruct an accurate assessment of the threat these women pose. Counterterrorism officials must address each case individually, be aware of the tendency to a positive security bias, and be wary of claims of exploitation and victimhood. Some women may indeed have been victimised and forced into Islamic State against their will by jihadist husbands. However, multitudes of other women played an active role in encouraging their husbands and families to the caliphate in the first place and served a variety of functions while there.

Islamic State is a highly misogynistic organisation. Yet it has propelled its female supporters into more active positions in the organisation, arguably more so than any other jihadist group or conflict. Since its inception, Islamic State has expanded both the potential and the scope of the roles and functions women can play, providing additional avenues for their participation in jihad in both kinetic and non-kinetic roles. Women’s agency as active and sometimes violent participants in jihad must not be misunderstood or underestimated. It will have a profound influence on the jihadist threat and counterterrorism efforts to years to come.


[1] Rohan Smith, “Accused IS-Inspired Stabber Momena Shoma Appears in Court”,, 3 May 2018,

[2] Adam Cooper, “‘I Had to Do It’: Woman to Plead Guilty to Islamic State-Inspired Stabbing”, The Age, 1 August 2018,

[3] For a categorisation of Australian women’s roles in Jihad, see Michele Grossman, Susan Carland, Hussein Tahiri and Andrew Zammit, The Role of Women in Supporting and Opposing Violent Extremism: Understanding Gender and Terrorism in Contemporary Australia, (Melbourne: Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, 2018),

[4] See R v Bayda; R v Namoa (No 8) [2019] NSWSC 24, Supreme Court of New South Wales decision, 31 January 2019,

[5] Omar Hussein also known as Abu Sa’eed al Britani, “Advice to Those Who Cannot Come to al Sham”, 11 January 2016.

[6] Charlie Campbell, “ISIS Unveiled: The Story Behind Indonesia’s First Female Suicide Bomber”, Time, 3 March 2017,

[7] Inside the Caliphate #7, al-Hayat Media Center, Islamic State, 7 February 2018.

[8] Anna Kelsey-Sugg and Belinda Sommer, “The Role Women Played in Indonesia’s First Whole-Family Suicide Bombings, and What to Do Next”, ABC News, 30 May 2018,

[9] “The Duty of Women in Waging Jihad against the Enemy”, al Naba, Issue 100, 5 October 2017. See also, “Islamic State Calls on Female Supporters to Take Part in ‘Jihad’”, Middle East Eye, 6 October 2017,

[10] Terrorism financing experts estimate that Islamic State has around $400 million dollars in its coffers via stolen gold, currency and antiquities. The group is able to access and transfer resources through an extensive hawala system (traditionally a trust-based system of value transfer), money laundering in legitimate businesses throughout the Middle East and bank networks with links in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. This $400 million is what is the left of the estimated $6 billion previously controlled by Islamic State via heists on the central banks of Iraq and Syria and their control of oil fields, mines, factories and farms, as well as taxation revenue control during the time of the caliphate. See Joby Warrick, “Retreating ISIS Army Smuggled a Fortune in Cash and Gold Out of Iraq and Syria”, The Washington Post, 21 December 2018,

[11] UNFPA Syria, “Al Hol Situation Report”, UpdateNumber 4, 1 April 2019, ; “Syria: Humanitarian Response in Al Hol Camp — Situation Report No 3, as of 1 May 2019”, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 19 May 2019,

[12] Isabel Coles, “Hard-core Islamic State Members Carry Ideology from Crushed Caliphate”, The Wall Street Journal, 18 March 2019,

[13] Siobhan Heanue and Eric Tlozek, “Pregnant Wife of Sri Lanka Bomber Detonates Suicide Vest, Killing Children and Police”, ABC News, 25 April, 2019,

[14] Ben Otto et al, “Sri Lanka Bombers Secured Unusual Source of Help: Their Families”, The Wall Street Journal, 3 May 2019,

[15] Nelly Lahoud, “The Neglected Sex: The Jihadis’ Exclusion of Women from Jihad”, Terrorism and Political Violence 26, No 5 (2014), 780–802.

[16] The first female Palestinian suicide bomber attack was carried out in January 2002. See James Bennet, “Arab Woman’s Path to Unlikely ‘Martyrdom’”, The New York Times, 31 January 2002, 

[17] Yoram Schweitzer, “Palestinian Female Suicide Bombers: Virtuous Heroines or Damaged Goods?”, in Female Terrorism and Militancy: Agency, Utility, and Organization, Cindy Ness ed (London; New York: Routledge, 2008).

[18] Katharina Von Knop, “The Female Jihad: Al Qaeda’s Women”, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 30, No 5 (2007), 397–414.

[19] Swati Parashar, “Gender, Jihad and Jingoism: Women as Perpetrators, Planners, and Patrons of Militancy in Kashmir”, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 34, No 4 (2011), 295–317.

[20] Farhat Haq, “Militarism and Motherhood: The Women of the Lashkar-i-Tayyabia in Pakistan”, Signs 32, No 4 (2007), 1023–1046.

[21] Don Rassler et al, “The Fighters of Lashkar-e-Taiba: Recruitment, Training, Deployment and Death”, Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, Occasional Paper Series, April 2013,

[22] Although there have been reports that at least one women was an LeT suicide bomber: see Deepshikha Gosh, “David Headley Says Ishrat Jehan Was Lashkar Terrorist”, NDTV, 11 February 2016,

[23] Christine Fair and Ali Hamza, “Women and Support for Terrorism in Pakistan”, Terrorism and Political Violence 30, No 6 (2018), 962–983.

[24] Jason Warner and Hilary Matfess, “Exploding Stereotypes: The Unexpected Operational and Demographic Characteristics of Boko Haram’s Suicide Bombers”, Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point, Report, August 2017, 29,

[25] Ibid, 29–30.

[26] ‘Abd al-Wahid al-Maqdisi (d 1203 AD), Manaqib al-sahabiyyat (The Merits of Women Companions [of the Prophet Muhammad]), as cited in David Cook, “Women Fighting in Jihad?”, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 28, No 5 (2005), 375–384.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Abdullah Azzam, The Defense of Muslim Lands: The First Obligation after Iman (Minbar al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad, 1984).

[29] Azzam distinguished between two types of obligation in the Muslim religion: fard ayn and fard kifaya. Fard ayn is an obligation on each member of the Muslim community individually. And fard kifaya is an obligation on the community as a whole to engage in jihad. When jihad is deemed to be fard kifaya, women were not obliged to fight but had the option. When it was labelled as fard ayn by religious authorities, it also became an individual duty of women to participate.

[30] Von Knop, “The Female Jihad: Al Qaeda’s Women”.

[31] As referenced in Cook, “Women Fighting in Jihad?”, 379.

[32] Ibid, 380.

[33] “The Qaradawi Fatwas”, Middle East Quarterly 11, No 3 (2004), 78–80,

[34] After the first Palestinian female suicide bomber attack in 2002, an editorial appeared in the Egyptian Islamist Weekly, which read: “It is a woman, a woman, a woman who is a source of pride for the women of this nation and a source of honour that shames the submissive men with a shame that cannot be washed away except by blood.” As quoted in Von Knop, “The Female Jihad: Al Qaeda’s Women”.

[35] Von Knop, “The Female Jihad: Al Qaeda’s Women”.

[36] Shiraz Maher, Salafi-Jihadism: The History of an Idea (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).

[37] Nadia al-Dayel, “Sexual Suppression and Political Agency: Evoking a Women’s Support for the Islamic State”, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, published online 3 December 2018.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Elizabeth Pearson and Emily Winterbotham, “Women, Gender and Daesh Radicalisation: A Milieu Approach”, The RUSI Journal 162, No 3 (2017), 60–72.

[40] Umm Sumayyah al-Muhajirah, “A Jihad without Fighting”, in Dabiq, Issue 11 (2015), 40–45. See also “Sisters’ Role Off the Battlefield”, in A Sister’s Role in Jihad, a propaganda booklet created for women.

[41] Umm Sumayyah al-Muhajirah, “A Jihad without Fighting”, 44.

[42] Souad Mekhennet and Joby Warrick, “The Jihadist Plan to Use Women to Launch the Next Incarnation of ISIS”, The Washington Post, 26 November 2017,

[43] Ibid.

[44] Arwa Damon and Gul Tuysuz, “How She Went from Schoolteacher to an ISIS Member”, CNN, 7 October 2014,

[45] Umm Sayyaf was the wife of Abu Sayyaf (real name Fathi Ben Awn Ben Jidi Murad al Tunisi), a senior Tunisian IS operative in charge of oil and gas financing who was killed by US Delta forces in 2015: see Barbara Starr and Kevin Conlon, “US Names ISIS Commander Killed in Raid”, CNN, 19 May 2015, 

[46] The criminal complaint and arrest warrant alleges that Umm Sayyaf not only was responsible for IS slaves but accompanied her husband on business with IS leadership in various parts of caliphate territory, spirited fighters, stored and hid large sums of currency and weapons for Islamic State, and was in touch with IS propagandists. Criminal Complaint and Arrest Warrant, USA vs Nisreen Assad Ibrahim Bahar, United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Case No: 1:16-mj-63, 2016,

[47] Darien Cavanaugh, “Islamic State Might Finally Be Arming its Women”, Medium – War Is Boring (Blog), 26 April 2017,

[48] Kalyan Kumar, “British Women Jihadis Manage Brothels of IS Fighters in Syria: Reports”, International Business Times, 12 September 2014,

[49] Amanda Spencer, “The Hidden Face of Terrorism: An Analysis of the Women in the Islamic State”, Journal of Strategic Security 9, No 3 (2016), 74–98.

[50] Rachel Inch, “Jihad and Hashtags: Women’s Roles in Islamic State and Pro-Jihadist Social Networks”, MA Research Paper 13, Western University, September 2017,

[51] Simone Roworth, “Australia’s Caliphette’s”, The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 1 July 2015,

[52] Naima Brown, “Mother of Australian ‘IS Bride’ Begs Government ‘Please Bring My Daughter Home”, SBS Dateline, 28 February 2019,

[53] Farah Pandith and Sasha Havlicek, “The Female Face of Terror”, The Telegraph (UK), 28 January 2015,

[54] Quoted in “Shadi Jabar: How Australian ISIS Recruiter Lured other Brides to Syria”, The Australian, 24 May 2019, See also Cindy Wockner, “Shadi Jabar: The Australian who Lured Jihadi Brides for ISIS”, The Daily Telegraph, 8 May 2016, 

[55] Duncan McNab, “Shadi Jabar Turned from Midwife Student to Terror Recruiter, Turning Her Own Brother into a Murderer”, 7 News, 9 May 2019,

[56] Jytte Klausen, “Tweeting the Jihad: Social Media Networks of Western Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq”, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 38, No 1 (2014), 1–22.

[57] Daniel Piotrowski, “‘We’re Thirsty for Your Blood’: Playboy Jihadi’s Widow Poses with Her Gun-toting ‘Clique’ of Female Fanatics in Front of Flash BMW and Boasts of ‘Five Star Jihad’ Lifestyle in Syria”, Daily Mail Australia, 18 March 2015,

[58] Ibid.

[59] Sarah Dean and Daniel Piotrowski, “‘I’m the Most Content I Have Ever Been in My Life”: Wife of Australian Jihadi Tweets Picture of ‘Martyred’ Husband’s Bloodied Body after He is Killed Fighting for ISIS in Syria”, The Daily Mail Australia, 19 March 2015,

[60] Laura Huey and Eric Witmer, “#IS_Fangirl: Exploring a New Role for Women in Terrorism”, Contemporary Voices: St Andrews Journal of International Relations 7, No 1 (2016), 1–10,

[61] Charlie Winter, “The Virtual ‘Caliphate:’ Understanding Islamic State’s Propaganda Strategy,” Quilliam Foundation, July, 2015,

[62] Huey and Witmer, “#IS_Fangirl: Exploring a New Role for Women in Terrorism”.

[63] Criminal Complaint, USA vs Kim Anh Vo, United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Case: 19-mj-002334, 2019, unsealed on 12 March 2019, 

[64] Rose Bernard, “These Are Not the Terrorist Groups You’re Looking For: An Assessment of Cyber Capabilities of Islamic State”, Journal of Cyber Policy 2, No 2 (2017), 255–265.

[65] Women of the Islamic State: A Manifesto on Women by the al Khansaa Brigade, translation and analysis by Charlie Winter, February 2015,

[66] Ibid.

[67] Charlie Winter and Devorah Margolin, “The Mujahidat Dilemma: Female Combatants and the Islamic State”, CTC Sentinel 10, No 7 (2017), 23–28,

[68] “Our Journey to Allah”, Rumiyah, Issue 11, 13 July 2017, 15.

[69] Ibid.

[70] “The Obligation on Women to Engage in Jihad against the Enemies”, al-Naba, Issue C, 11 October 2017.

[71] “Inside the Caliphate”, Series 7, 7 February 2018.

[72] Ibid.

[73] Ibid.

[74] Rita Katz, “How Do We Know ISIS Is Losing? Now It’s Asking Women to Fight”, The Washington Post, 2 November 2017,

[75] Jack Moore, “ISIS Unleashes Dozens of Female Suicide Bombers in Battle for Mosul”, Newsweek, 5 July 2017,

[76] “Raqqa ‘Liberated from Islamic State’ in Sign of Jihadists’ Collapsing Fortunes”, ABC News, 18 October 2017,

[77] “Libya: Female Suicide Bombers in Sirte for First Time”, ANSAmed, 18 August 2016,

[78] In February 2016, seven female IS militants were arrested and three were killed in connection with an operation that also included an attempted IS suicide bomber. One of the women was arrested with a suicide vest. Months later, in August 2016, IS attempted to deploy at least two female suicide bombers in Sirte but they were killed by Libyan forces before they detonated. In December 2016 there were a number of female suicide attacks that were more successful. 

[79] Ahmed Elumami, Ismail Zeitouni and Aidan Lewis, “Women Bombers Emerge from Islamic State Redoubt to Attack Libyan Forces”, Reuters, 3 December 2016,

[80] Bel Trew, “Hundreds of Jihadi Brides Sent for Combat Training”, The Times, 19 April 2016,

[81] Bel Trew, “ISIS Sends Women into Battle in Libya”, The Times, 29 February 2016,

[82] Trew, “Hundreds of Jihadi Brides Sent for Combat Training”.

[83] Ibid.

[84] Joana Cook and Gina Vale, From Daesh to ‘Diaspora’: Tracing the Women and Minors of Islamic State (London: International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, Department of War Studies, Kings College, 2018),

[85] Robin Simcox, “The 2016 French Female Attack Cell: A Case Study”, CTC Sentinel 11, No 6 (2018), 21–25,

[86] Cook and Vale, From Daesh to ‘Diaspora’: Tracing the Women and Minors of Islamic State, 54.

[87] Alyssa Rubin and Aurelein Breeden, “Women’s Emergence as Terrorists in France Points to Shift in ISIS Gender Roles”, The New York Times, 1 October 2016,

[88] Madeline Grant, “Two Teenage Girls Arrested over French Synagogue Suicide Bomb Plot”, Newsweek, 29 August 2014,

[89] Ibid.

[90] Angelique Chrisafis, “Cell of French Women Guided by ISIS Behind the Failed Nortre Dame Attack”, The Guardian, 10 September 2016,

[91] Simcox, “The 2016 French Female Attack Cell: A Case Study”.

[92] Maher Chmaytelli, Stephen Kalin and Ali Abdelaty, “Islamic State Calls for Attacks on the West during Ramadan in Audio Message”, Reuters, 22 May 2016,

[93] Grossman et al, The Role of Women in Supporting and Opposing Violent Extremism: Understanding Gender and Terrorism in Contemporary Australia, 12.

[94] See R v Bayda; R v Namoa (No 8) [2019] NSWSC 24, Supreme Court of New South Wales decision, 31 January 2019,

[95] Grossman et al, The Role of Women in Supporting and Opposing Violent Extremism: Understanding Gender and Terrorism in Contemporary Australia, 6.

[96] Mark Schliebs, “Cheng Killer’s Sister Shadi Jabar Enlisted UK’s Youngest Terror Teen”, The Australian, 7 June 2018.

[97] Lizzie Dearden, “Member of First All Female ISIS Cell Jailed for Life for London Attack Plan”, The Independent, 15 June 2018,; “16-year-old Sentenced to Six Years after Stabbing German Police Officer for IS”, DW, 26 January 2017, 

[98] Constanze Letsch, “Pregnant Istanbul Suicide Bomber was Russian Citizen”, The Guardian, 16 January 2015,

[99] “Wife’s Role in Calif. Attack Raises Fear of Jihadi Brides”, CBS News, 12 December 2015,

[100] Matt Apuzzo, Michael Schmidt and Julia Preston, “US Visa Process Missed San Bernardino Wife’s Online Zealotry”, The New York Times, 12 December 2015,

[101] “The Rafidah”, Dabiq, Issue 13 (2016), 3, 46.

[102] Joseph Akwiri, “Kenyan Police Find Note Suggesting Islamic State Link to Mombasa Attack”, Reuters, 15 September 2016,

[103] “Maroc: La cellule terroriste féminine démantelée lundi projetait de commettre un attentat-suicide le 7 octobre (Khiame) [Morocco: The terror cell dismantled Monday planned to commit a suicide attack on 7 October (Khiame)]”, Atlas Info, 4 October 2016,

[104] Aaron Zelin, “Tunisia’s Female Jihadists”, PolicyWatch 3032, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 31 October 2018,

[105] “Tunis Attack: Suicide Bomber Was Jobless Graduate”, BBC News, 30 October 2018,

[106] Praveen Swami, “Sri Lanka Blasts: Fatima Ibrahim Identified as One of the Suicide Bombers; Wife of SL Millionaire Blew Self Up with Unborn Child”, First Post, 8 May 2019,

[107] Anbarasan Ethirajan, “Sri Lanka Attacks: The Family Networks behind the Bombings”, BBC News, 11 May 2019,

[108] Deborah Cassrels, “Women and Children First: The New Breed of IS Bombers”, SBS News, 19 June 2018,; Hannah Beech and Muktita Suhartono, “At the Heart of Indonesia Terror Attacks, a Well-Liked Family”, The New York Times, 18 May 2018,

[109] Hillary Leung, “The Wife and Son of a Suspected Indonesian Militant Died in Explosion, Police Say”, Time, 13 March 2019,

[110] Responsible for ensuring the organisation's decisions comply with its interpretation of Sharia law; see Nick Thompson and Atika Shubert, "The anatomy of ISIS: How the 'Islamic State' is run, from oil to beheadings",, 14 January 2015,

[111] Aymenn Jawad al Tamimi, “Dissent in the Islamic State: The testimony of Abu Abd al Malek al Shami”,, 14 January 2019,

[112] Vera Mironova, “Is the Future of ISIS Female?”, The New York Times, 20 February 2019,; footage from Daesh camp in Baghouz, video on Twitter post by @NotWoofers, 14 March 2019,

[113] UNFPA Syria, “Al Hol Situation Report”, Update Number 4, 1 April 2019,

[114] Mironova, “Is the Future of ISIS Female?”.

[115] See US Department of Defense, “Operation Inherent Resolve and other overseas contingency operations, Lead Inspector General Report to the United States Congress, October 1, 2018 – December 31, 2018”, 4 February 2019, 18, 20,

[116] Hassan Hassan, “Insurgents Again: The Islamic State’s Calculated Reversion to Attrition in the Syria–Iraq Border Region and Beyond”, CTC Sentinel 10, No 11 (2017), 1–8,

[117] Isabel Coles and Ali Nabhan, “Islamic State Enlists Women as Covert Operatives in Survival Bid”, The Wall Street Journal, 30 January 2019,

[118] Mironova, “Is the Future of ISIS Female?”.

[119] Coles and Nabhan, “Islamic State Enlists Women as Covert Operatives in Survival Bid”.

[120] Mekhennet and Warrick, “The Jihadist Plan to Use Women to Launch the Next Incarnation of ISIS”.

[121] Adam Withnall, “ISIS Booklet Issues Guidelines to Mothers on How to Raise ‘Jihadi Babies’”, The Independent, 1 January 2015,

[122] James Andre, “The Battle-Hardened Foreign Jihadi Brides Trapped in Syria”, France 24, 8 February 2019,

[123] Erin Cunningham, “True ISIS Believers Regroup Inside Refugee Camp, Terrorize the ‘Impious’”, The Washington Post, 19 April 2019,

[124] Michael Munoz, “Selling the Long War: Islamic State Propaganda after the Caliphate”, CTC Sentinel 11, No 10 (2018), 31–36,

[125] Mekhennet and Warrick, “The Jihadist Plan to Use Women to Launch the Next Incarnation of ISIS”.

[126] The first issue of Sunnat e Khaula (The Way of Khaula), referring to a female follower of the Prophet Muhammad, was published in August 2017; see Frud Bezhan, “Pakistani Taliban Chases Jihadi Pack with New Women’s Magazine”, Radio Free Europe, 2 August 2017,

[127] Amira Jadoon and Sara Mahmood, “Militant Rivalries Extend to Female Recruitment in Pakistan”, Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point, 14 September 2017,

[128] Media release, "Australia must urgently repatriate children of Australian foreign fighters as Save the Children seeks clarity on government action" Save the Children;  18 April 2019,; David Wroe, “‘Sick, Wounded’ Children Need Urgent Evacuation from Syrian Refugee Camp, Say Families”, Sydney Morning Herald, 25 May 2019,

[129] “Orphans of ISIS”, Four Corners, 15 April 2019,

[130] Helen Davidson, “Children of Isis Terrorist Khaled Sharrouf Removed from Syria, Set to Return to Australia”, The Guardian, 24 June 2019,

[131] Ibid.

[132] Wroe, “‘Sick, Wounded’ Children Need Urgent Evacuation from Syrian Refugee Camp, Say Families” .

[133] Statement by the Hon Peter Dutton, Minister for Home Affairs, “Exclusion Order to Manage Returning Foreign Fighters”, 21 February 2019,

[134] “Counter- Terrorism (Temporary Exclusion Orders) Bill 2019,

[135] United Nations Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee, “Gender Dimensions of the Response to Returning Foreign Terrorist Fighters: Research Perspectives”, CTED Trends Report, February 2019,

[136] Ben Taub, “Iraq’s Post-ISIS Campaign of Revenge”, The New Yorker, 17 December 2018,

[137] Dylan Welch and Suzanne Dredge, “Death, Disease and Islamic State’s Moral Police Stalk Syria’s al-Hawl Refugee Camp”, ABC News, 17 April 2019,

[138] Wroe, “‘Sick, Wounded’ Children Need Urgent Evacuation from Syrian Refugee Camp, Say Families”.

[139] Ben Hubbard, “In a Crowded Syria Tent Camp, the Women and Children of ISIS Wait in Limbo,” New York Times, 29 March 2019,

[140] Safia S, a teenager sentenced to six years imprisonment in Germany for stabbing a police officer in the name of Islamic State, is a revealing example. Her youth and claims of contrition may have contributed to the lenient sentence. It is likely, however, that she also benefited from a positive security bias. She was well known to German counterterrorism authorities, came from a radicalised family, and had attempted to travel to the caliphate. Yet despite all that was known about her and her connections, she was sentenced to a relatively light term: see “16-year-old Sentenced to Six Years after Stabbing German Police Officer for IS”, DW, 26 January 2017.

[141] Audrey Alexander and Rebecca Turkington, “Treatment of Terrorists: How Does Gender Affect Justice?”, CTC Sentinel 11, No 8 (2018), 24–29,

[142] R v Bayda; R v Namoa (No 8) [2019] NSWSC 24, Supreme Court of New South Wales decision, 31 January 2019,

[143] Ester EJ Strømmen, “Jihadi Brides or Female Foreign Fighters? Women in Da’esh — From Recruitment to Sentencing”, GPS Policy Brief 01/2017, PRIO Centre on Gender, Peace and Security, 9 May 2017,

[144] Ibid.

[145] Grossman et al, The Role of Women in Supporting and Opposing Violent Extremism: Understanding Gender and Terrorism in Contemporary Australia.

[146] Strømmen, “Jihadi Brides or Female Foreign Fighters? Women in Da’esh — From Recruitment to Sentencing”.

[147] United Nations Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee, “Gender Dimensions of the Response to Returning Foreign Terrorist Fighters: Research Perspectives”.

[148] Policy recommendations outlined in Jamille Bigio and Rachel Vogelstein, “Women and Terrorism: Hidden Threats, Forgotten Partners”, Council on Foreign Relations Discussion Paper, May 2019,

[149] “Abu Bakr al Baghdadi: IS Leader Appears in First Video in Five Years”, BBC News, 30 April 2019,

[150] Pedro Manrique et al, “Women’s Connectivity in Extreme Networks”, Science Advances 2, No 6 (2016),

Part One of the Article:  How the Islamic State Has Expanded the Role of Women in Jihad and What That Means For the Future of Jihad – Part One

Source: Lowy Institute