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The Psyche of Female Bombers

IT WASN’T SO LONG AGO that female soldiers were unheard of. Today they are no longer a rarity, and they have proven their worth in the field.

A perverse corollary of this development has been the increase of female jihadists. Though men still constitute the vast majority of Islamist terrorists, women are increasingly taking part in operations in such places as Iraq, Egypt, Uzbekistan, and Jordan, as male strategists recognize their potential value.

Women bring various advantages to terrorist strikes, explains RAND Policy Analyst Farhana Ali in a recent article. For one, so few women conduct attacks that they don’t draw suspicion. In addition, if covered in traditional Muslim dress, women can better conceal weapons and explosives as well as evade detection. Finally, “Attacks by women have historically generated greater public interest—and concern—from television and print media,” she writes, giving their cause more attention.

Unfortunately, there is no set of factors to determine which women will embrace jihad, writes Ali. That’s problematic, because women “have begun to participate in some of the world’s deadliest suicide bombings,” she writes. These attacks may inspire other likeminded females, who can also draw inspiration from celebrated female jihadists dating from the earliest days of Islam.

Ali suggests, however, that the rising role of women may be a short-term phenomenon, not a lasting trend. “Once male jihadists gain new recruits and score a few successes in the war on terror, the liberal door that now permits women to participate in operations will likely close,” she writes.

Ali’s article, “Ready to Detonate: The Diverse Profiles of Female Bombers,” is included in the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism’s 2006 terrorism yearbook.