Women are increasingly playing key roles in terrorist attacks
Sadia Jalal, a university teacher, was arrested earlier in July for her role in the Safoora terrorist attack in which 43 Shia Ismaili passengers of a bus were shot and killed one by one.
Sadia was a professor in a private university, and is the third wife of Jalal, a leader of Al Qaeda in Pakistan who is accused of “facilitating the suspects of the Safoora carnage.” An investigation team that questioned the suspects said the woman “had been brainwashing students for recruiting them in a terrorist outfit”, according to media reports.
The arrest – made during a law-enforcement operation in the central district of Karachi – came as a shock to many. “A possible involvement of a woman, and that too a teacher, in such a high profile case of terrorism is worrisome,” said Dr Fateh Muhammad Burfat – founding chairman of the Department Criminology at the University of Karachi.
According to Raja Umar Khattab, a senior officer in the counter terrorism department of Karachi police, wives of militants are often facilitators of terrorism. “They remain loyal to their husbands and protect them from being arrested,” he said. Khattab said the militants often intermarried, forming “militant families”. “Many Arab Jihadists married Mehsud girls from local Jihadi families,” he said.
Last month, Karachi police nabbed several members of Swat Taliban in the Mominabad area of Karachi. The militants were living along with their wives and children in a house which was also used as an explosives factory. Police officials say the wives of the militants who die often remarry another militant.
But Islamabad-based journalist and militancy expert Hasan Abdullah says women have pivotal roles in some jihadi groups, not just as wives of militants or facilitators. “Groups like Al Qaeda have always tried to remain a step ahead of state institutions by often deploying means that have been regarded as against the norms,” says Hasan, who has spent time in militant camps in order to carry out his professional duties. “Their female members have played a part in their warfare. From suicide attackers to teachers, to spies, technical experts, doctors and much more.”
Women can evade snap checks
On November 19, 2012, a woman detonated her suicide vest near former Jamaat-e-Islami emir Qazi Hussain Ahmed’s vehicle in the northwest Mohmand tribal agency of Pakistan. Qazi Hussain Ahmed was accused by former Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud of being a supporter of Pakistan’s US-allied government.
A female suicide attacker was killed when she tried to smuggle explosives into an Imambargah near Khalid Bin Waleed Road in Karachi in December 2013.
In February this year, the federal interior ministry sent an alert to the provincial governments that terrorists planned to carry out fresh attacks using female suicide bombers. The reason cited in the letter was that women could evade being searched or snapchecked.
Last year, Lal Masjid cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz said in an interview with Bloomberg News that 500 women of Pakistani Taliban were ready to carry out suicide attacks. In November 2014, a video produced by the female students of the Lal Masjid-run Jamia Hafsa seminary showed them declaring their allegiance to the Syria and Iraq based Islamic State. The girls urged Pakistani militants to join them.
The phenomenon is not limited to Pakistan. On May 17, The Mirror reported that British terror suspect Samantha Lewthwaite – sometimes referred to as the ‘White Widow’ – was likely responsible for the deaths of at least 400 people, including the slaughter of 148 people at a university in Kenya.
“The British woman – a graduate of London University, is now trusted by bosses including al-Shabaab leader Ahmad Umar to co-ordinate major atrocities, terror raids, suicide attacks and car bombings in Somalia and Kenya,” the report said.
Last month, three Bradford sisters and their nine children split into two groups to cross the border into Syria, reportedly to join ISIS.
On January 6, a woman set off explosives at a police station in Istanbul’s historic Sultanahmet district, leaving one officer killed and hurting another.
On January 11, 2014 two female suicide bombers of Boko Haram killed at least four people in a bomb explosion in a north-eastern Nigerian market. A day earlier, a 10 year old girl had killed at least 20 people.
“I see the conscription and recruitment of women to be a significant problem,” says Rafia Zakariya. “Our society does not have many outlets for women and the consequence is that militancy is being wrongly understood as a form of ‘empowerment’. We saw that in the Uzma Qayyum case as well, where a girl trying to escape a forced marriage went into Jamia Hafsa.”
“An anti-crime society has to be developed to eliminate the menace of extremism, for which we need proactive families and education that involves ethics,” says Dr Burfat.
The writer is a Karachi based journalist
Originally Published in The Friday Times