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24th Sep 2018

EU women swell ranks of Islamic State

  • Amsterdam: 40% of known Dutch nationals who went to join IS were women (Photo: Michael Coghlan)

European women have gone to join jihadist groups in the Middle East in greater numbers than previously thought, with their children at risk of becoming “the next generation of foreign terrorist”, according to a study by the EU’s joint police agency in The Hague.

The findings, out on Wednesday (20 July) in Europol’s 2015 “terrorism situation” report, come amid a sharp increase in terrorist attacks and offences last year.

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  • Uncertain motives behind the attack in Nice (Photo: Reuters)

The study noted that, in the year of the Charlie Hebdo and Paris killings, EU states’ police forces arrested 687 people for “religiously inspired/jihadist” offences, compared to 395 in 2014 and 216 the year before that.

It said the vast majority of last year’s terrorist incidents were linked to separatist movements.

But the number of jihadist attacks jumped to 17 in 2015 from four in 2014 and the religious attacks were responsible for almost all of last year’s EU terrorist fatalities - 150 out of 151.

The Europol study said “a significant percentage” of the 5,000 or so EU nationals who have gone to join jihadist groups in the Middle East were women.

The figure was 40 percent of all known Dutch nationals who went and 20 percent of those from Finland and Germany, with similar patterns in Belgium, Spain and the UK.

Europol said that the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group, unlike the al-Qaeda extremist group, for instance, has called on women to travel alone to Syria without a male guardian.

It said IS propaganda portrayed them as “empowered managers of their households”. They were forbidden to leave after they arrived, but some were given weapons training, while others joined female-only forces that enforced moral and dress codes.

It said IS needed them to lure young male fighters with promises of brides.

It also said IS propaganda justified male foreign fighters having non-Muslim sex slaves on grounds that this was “the ultimate humiliation of non-Muslims and a good deed”.

Europol said many of the women who went quickly got pregnant, with one third of the 70 Dutch minors currently in Iraq and Syria having been born there.

“Of particular concern are the children of foreign terrorist fighters who live with their parents in IS territory … IS has often shown that they train these minors to become the next generation of foreign terrorist”, the Europol study said.

It noted that IS was just one of six or seven radical groups in the region that recruited Europeans.

But IS propaganda was more effective because it “has largely replaced the image of the Muslim victim with that of the Muslim conqueror, taking revenge for alleged aggression against Islam”.

Police from Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain said that fewer of their nationals are attempting to join up than in 2014.

But Europol said that IS is likely to launch more overseas assaults “to appear defiant in the face of [international] coalition attacks” on its home territory.

It warned of the risk of a chemical attack in Europe by returning foreign fighters due to the expertise and materiel available in Iraq and Syria, both of which had chemical weapons programmes.

It also said “most of the perpetrators of the 2015 attacks … were returnees from conflict zones”.

It said these EU nationals should not be mixed up with the flow of Syrian refugees, despite the rhetoric of far-right movements in Europe, because “there is no evidence of a systematic problem” that linked migrants to terrorism.

The Europol report came out a week after a French man of Tunisian origin killed 84 people in Nice, France, for motives that remained unclear and two days after IS claimed responsibility for an axe attack on a German train.

It also came out four months after IS killed 32 people in a symbolic strike in the EU capital.

With IS and other groups fanning out their operations across north Africa, Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and the Far East, Europol warned that EU nationals were also at risk overseas.

“In 2015, kidnappings of EU citizens and nationals of other Western countries took place in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, Egypt, Libya, Mali, the Philippines, Syria and Yemen”, it said.

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German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere said the Afghan teenager who knifed passengers on a train is a "lone wolf" terrorist, with more attacks of the same type likely.

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