The security risk of female ISIS recruits is “underestimated” due to gender stereotyping, according to the head of the UN counter-terrorism agency.
Michele Coninsx warned that security services often view female terrorists only as “victims” and called for a more “nuanced” approach to dealing with them.
It comes when Shamima Begum, a British ‘jihadist bride’ who fled her childhood home in East London in 2015 to join ISIS in Syria, is fighting to return to the UK so she can stand trial.
Countries underestimate the security risk of female ISIS recruits because they only regard them as ‘victims’, warns the UN terror leader (pictured, British ISIS member Shamima Begum)
Begum, who married an ISIS fighter and had three children with him, was reportedly a member of ISIS armed military police and enforced strict Sharia laws.
She emphasizes that she did not participate in violence.
A report from the bureau headed by Ms. Coninsx – the Executive Directorate of the Counter-Terrorism Committee – warned that some UN member states are not properly investigating the roles of women in ISIS.
While many female recruits are victims of the terror cult, it is possible to fulfill “concurrent roles as supporters and victims,” the report said.
Those who joined the so-called ISIS caliphate in Syria had “supported and facilitated war crimes and terrorist attacks,” the report added.
The role of women in violence – including beheading, mutilation and stoning – is often ignored, the report warned, partly because of the way ISIS views women itself.
“While women are often active as online propagandists and recruiters, their involvement in other types of activities, including violence, has been less prominently documented online because of ISIS ‘restrictive gender norms,” the report said.
Ms. Coninsx echoed the report’s findings in an interview with The Independent, saying that research into the role of women in ISIS is far behind that of men.
And the little research that has been done in recent years has often not been put into practice by the security services, she said.
“While policymakers and practitioners are realizing that more attention needs to be paid to women in a counter-terrorist context, the prejudices about gender unfortunately persist,” she added.
Michele Coninsx (pictured) said a more ‘nuanced’ view of female terrorists is needed after her agency warned that they may be both ‘supporters and victims’ of terror groups
“It is important to emphasize that this not only means that some continue to underestimate the threat posed by women, but that the complex reality of how and why women are associated with terrorism defies simple solutions and requires nuanced approaches.”
About 900 British are said to have left the UK to join ISIS in Syria and Iraq between 2014, when the terror group began to conquer territory, and 2019, when the ‘Caliphate’ collapsed.
It is not clear how many of those recruits were women, but at least 15 so-called ‘jihadist brides’ – including Shamima Begum – have been publicly identified.
Begum left the UK for Syria when she was just 15 years old and was married to a Dutch ISIS fighter on arrival and lived in Raqqa, the de facto capital of the terror group.
After the fall of Baghouz, the last piece of ISIS territory in Syria to be recaptured last year, Begum was found in a detention camp for female ISIS recruits.
In an interview with The Times, a heavily pregnant Begum said she wanted to return to the UK to give birth to her son and that she didn’t regret joining IS.
Her son was born just a few days later, but died of pneumonia. She was later stripped of her British citizenship and said she was unable to return to the UK.
Earlier this month, however, the court ruled that she could return while the case was decided.
The government has appealed against the ruling to the Supreme Court, during which the now twenty-year-old will have to stay abroad.