In early March, Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the creation of a female battalion in north-eastern Syria. While before terrorists saw women as their potential wives or slaves now they are also using them in combat.
Here are the reasons behind the “emancipation” of women in the notorious terrorist group.
“I was walking down the street when a car suddenly stopped and a group of armed women got out. They insulted me and yelled at me. They took me to one of their centers and kept me locked in a room. Nobody talked to me or told me the reason for my detention. One of the women in the brigade came over, pointing her firearm at me. She then tested my knowledge of prayer, fasting and hijab,” local teen Zainab told the website Syria Deeply about her arrest by Daesh female fighters in Raqqa.
Those women were members of the al-Khansaa Brigade, an all-female Daesh moral police unit. Western media has often called the brigade the “female gestapo” of Daesh.
Two hours later, Zeinab was released. One of the fighters told her that Zeinab had been arrested because her hijab was not worn properly. “You should be punished for taking your religion lightly,” she was told.
Daesh militants created the female police forces in their territories in 2014. The al-Khansaa Brigade was named after Al-Khansa, a female Arabic poet from the earliest days of Islam. The unit was initially used for examining women at Daesh checkpoints. However, later its fighters were brought to the streets of Raqqa to enforce Sharia law.
The female brigade acts with the same brutality as other Daesh fighters.
According to Zeinab, al-Khansaa Brigade fighters have spread fear among the women and girls in Raqqa, Daesh’s self-proclaimed capital.
In 2015, an Islamist female fighter killed a woman in Raqqa while she was breastfeeding her newborn child. The innocent mother covered her son with a burqa to hide him, but fighters of the al-Khansaa Brigade spotted her. One of the jihadists took the baby, gave it to another woman, Aisha, a former resident of Raqqa, said.
Salih, a 77-year-old Syrian, told another story about the infamous female brigade.
“I once saw a woman at a market and she lifted her niqab to inspect vegetables. A Daesh policewoman saw her and beat her. She was bleeding so badly that she died on the way to hospital. I saw many things, but I would cry if I told you them all,” he said.
Usually, terrorists’ wives join the brigade. However, some women join it because they support the ideology of Daesh and want to “protect” Islamic values. But some join the brigade in an attempt to simply earn money. Al-Khansaa fighters are paid up to $200 a month, a descent sum for Syria now.
“We have established the brigade to raise awareness of our religion among women, and to punish women who do not abide by the law,” one of the terrorists in Raqqa said.
After Daesh militants killed American journalist James Foley, al-Khansaa fighters and other female supporters of the terrorists expressed interest in being more involved in fighting. Many of them used social media like Twitter, calling on to kill “kafirs” and taking part in combat alongside men.
“Many female supporters of Daesh from around the world say they want to go to war, instead of doing household duties or being sex slaves,” Sergei Seregichev, an expert at the Institute for the Middle East, told Lenta.ru.
“There is a process of female emancipation taking place in the jihadi movement, albeit a very limited one,” Thomas Hegghammer, an expert in Islam at the Oslo University, told The Atlantic.
“Many of them are eager to portray themselves as strong women and often make fun of the Western stereotype of ‘the oppressed Muslim woman,'” he explained.
Max Abrahms, professor of political science at Northeastern University in Boston, shared the idea.
“A lot of the women in conservative Muslim societies feel like there is no realization of their goals and aspirations and talents and terrorism can unlock that, in a way,” he was quoted as saying by Newsweek.
Initially, Daesh terrorists were against the idea of letting women go to war. But now Daesh is creating all-female combat units. Sometimes women are used as suicide bombers, but the number of female Islamist fighters is steadily rising.
“Those battalions are formed as an example for Daesh male fighters, to prevent them from defecting. There is also the propaganda goal – to prove that Daesh is not a misogynist organization,” Seregichev said.
According to the expert, Daesh may be preparing a defense of Raqqa, in which female fighters would play the key role. Thus, the extremists could show that even women are ready to fight for Islam.
“The fact that a number of woman could die defending Raqqa, one if the Islamic holy sites, could attract more and more women to Syria and Iraq,” he assumed.