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Mohammad Sulaiman

The 'jihadi' women of Egypt's Sinai

Egyptian authorities recently uncovered a female 'jihadi' cell in Sinai [AFP]

Date of publication: 29 January, 2016

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Egyptian women are being recruited by the Islamic State group in Sinai to carry out various operational duties, which observers believe is a departure from standard extremist practice.
Hana Ahmed* did not have any 'extremist tendencies'. The young Egyptian followed news of militant attacks against forces in her country through Facebook and Twitter.

It was through social media, she met Abu Hamza al-Mudhaffar, an Islamic State group (IS) member from Egyptian Rafah in northeast Sinai.

After two months of online communication, al-Mudhaffar convinced Hana, who was in her twenties, to leave her village in Beni Suef, south of Egypt, and join him in Sinai.

Last month, Egyptian authorities said they uncovered the first female cell belonging to the IS franchise in Sinai, after a woman was arrested on suspicion of planting an improvised explosive device in from of Rafah general hospital.

Recruiting women

Hana married Abu Hamza al-Mudhaffar and soon began training on how to survey the movements of military convoys in Rafah.

After successfully completing her surveillance missions, she was charged with recruiting her friends to the Sinai franchise of IS, and within three months Hana was able to recruit four of her friends from various parts of Egypt through social media.

The women, who are all university graduates in their twenties, are the ideal demographic the terrorist group attempts to recruit, according to terrorism expert Khaled al-Sawarkah.

"These women usually join the group primarily by marrying IS fighters or through some familial relations," said al-Sawarkah.

The women, who are all university graduates in their twenties, are the ideal demographic the terrorist group attempts to recruit

The terrorism expert added that many women have lost a loved one due to the ongoing military campaign in Sinai, or have suffered ill-treatment at the hands of security forces, thus "joining the IS group is seen as a way to get revenge".

Female members of IS are suspected of being involved in three militant attacks against security forces in Sheikh Zuweid and Rafah, which have killed at least three military personnel including an army officer, according to a Sinai security source.

The source believes that the terrorist group has changed its strategy since the Egyptian army intensified its military operations in Sinai, and started relaying move heavily on female recruits to carry out attacks since they arouse less suspicion.

According to court documents seen by The New Arab, scores of Sinai women are accused of aiding IS militants in various ways, such as providing the group with logistical information about the movement of military convoys in northeastern Sinai.

Ideological motives

Saleh Mohammed Saleh, a psychology professor at Suez Canal University in Arish believes that female recruits who are not from Sinai are driven by ideological motives, such as "living under a caliphate".

The female recruits carry out a variety of tasks, including operational duties, reflecting a change in the IS group's view towards the role of women, according to Saleh.

The female recruits carry out a variety of tasks, including operational duties, reflecting a change in the IS group's view towards the role of women

Amal Nasrallah, also a psychology professor at Suez Canal University agrees with Saleh, adding that emotional reasons such as a sense of injustice are not the only reason women join the group.

Many women are convinced by the Islamic State's propaganda that presents a rosy picture of the group, while some join to escape their troubled lives in search of a fictional jihadi dream world, says Nasrallah.

Meanwhile, the fact that IS recruits women and uses them in operational roles indicates a major shift from earlier extremist ideologies which strictly forbade the participation of women, according to Islam Ramadan, a researcher on militant groups.

Ramadan says that female members of IS are now tasked with recruitment and other operational missions, which were forbidden by earlier groups such as al-Qaeda.

*The New Arab has not used her real name to protect identities 

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