The days without reports of a terrorist attack, somewhere in the world, have become rare. And no, today is not one of them. Details are emerging this morning of three veiled women attacking a police station in the Kenyan city of Mombasa, reportedly wounding two officers before they were shot dead.
What stands out in particular in this report is the gender of the alleged terrorists. Other recent attacks in Kenya and Nigeria suggest that al-Shabaab (which is believed to be behind the events in Mombasa) and Boko Haram are increasingly using female jihadists, and sometimes even little girls, to carry out their terror agenda. Meanwhile, with information bringing the world ever closer, such scenarios appear to be inspiring others to do the same in faraway places. In Paris, for example, police are still investigating a group of ISIS-linked Islamist women who were planning a large-scale attack on the Notre-Dame cathedral.
This new tragic path toward a kind of jihad gender equality is a rather recent phenomenon. In a paper penned 10 years ago, Katharina Von Knop, a German professor of international politics, wrote that female suicide bombers "undermine the idea of who and what a terrorist is." She argued that the role of women in jihad is, originally, that of "an ideological supporter and operational facilitator," someone who can "continue to take care about the financial issues of the organization and continue to educate the children in the â€˜right' belief," should the husband die in an attack. But at a time when al-Qaeda dominated the Islamic terror terrain, Von Knop also foresaw the evolution of the female jihadist into a full warrior. This, she concluded, provides terror groups with "a tactical advantage" given the "element of surprise, hesitancy to search women, and the stereotype of females as being nonviolent," not to mention the "much greater psychological impact."
The growing direct participation of women in terror operations not only raises the risk of more attacks, but also raises levels of suspicion towards Muslim women who have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism, including those dressed in traditional Islamic clothes. It is a reminder that recent debates in Europe over burqas and burkinis are no passing fashion.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR TODAY
- Syrian ceasefire comes into force (see below).
- 1.6 billion Muslims across the world celebrate Eid al-Adha, Islam's holiest festival.