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September 20, Schedule a Meeting with Your Rep March 20, 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.
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. There is no evidence of an influx of women participating in military operations or suicide missions in the Syria-Iraq theatre.
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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. 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 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. 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.
The Absence of Shi`a Suicide Attacks in Iraq
There are few women police officers and none working in combat roles in the army or special operations forces in Iraq. 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. 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.
Many of the women who surrendered in Baghouz and are currently detained in SDF camps remain unapologetically committed supporters of Islamic State. Some women in these camps have claimed that Islamic State ordered them to surrender and 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. 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.
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 returning. They may not have participated in combat but they have been exposed to violence and some have received weapons training.
However, it could also signal a more permanent shift in the role of women within the organisation. 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.
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. In August , TTP issued a new English-language propaganda piece in its first direct appeal to women to participate in violent operations.
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. 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. 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.
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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. 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.
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. 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 upon their return. Even if returnees are tried and convicted for terrorism offences, they present a radicalisation risk both in and outside of prison.