Sunday

24th Oct 2021

Women and children's role in Islamic State underestimated

  • The Islamic State has lost considerable ground (Photo: Reuters/Alaa Al-Marjani)

The number of women and minors returning to Europe from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is much higher than previously thought, according to experts.

A new report out Monday (23 July) by the department of war studies in King's College London suggests around a quarter of the some 41,490 citizens from around the world that joined the Islamic State between April 2013 and June 2018 are women and minors.

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"Women and minors are poised to play a significant role in carrying forward the ideology and legacy of IS after the physical fall of its 'caliphate' in late 2017," notes the report.

The report categorises IS minors as infants (0–4 years), children (5–14 years), and teenagers (15 –17 years).

Western Europe, when compared to all other regions around the world, saw the second highest proportion of female and minor returnees at up to 55 percent, while eastern Europe registered 18 percent in comparison.

The bulk of Western Europe Islamic State returnees ended up in the United Kingdom, followed by France and Germany.

Of the 1,765 people known to have returned to Western Europe, some 47 percent, or 834, are minors and another 138, or eight percent, are women.

But such figures are thought to be underestimates given the lack of official government data, say the researchers.

The same researchers also looked at what they described as Islamic State 'affiliates', which is a much broader category than 'returnees'.

They describe affiliates as people who travelled to the conflict region and became associated in various ways with the Islamic State either willingly or coercively. Altogether, some one in four affiliates is either a woman or a minor.

Such affiliates are thought to number of around 5,904 in Western Europe, of which some 25 percent are minors and 17 percent are women.

Of those, most come from France at up to 1,910, followed by Germany at up to 960 and the UK at up to 850.

Some have either returned, moved elsewhere, remained behind, or died. The UK estimates around 20 percent of its nationals have been killed, while over 50 percent returned.

"For France, the number of minors in IS is estimated to exceed or even double that of women, with up to 700 minors (including infants born in theatre) expected to return from the conflict zone," notes the report.

It noted that the countries with five highest proportion of minors are Kazakhstan (65-78 percent); Netherlands (58 percent); France (24–37 percent); China (35 percent); and Finland (34 percent).

The researchers estimate around 730 children were born in the caliphate to foreign nationals of which 566 were born to Western Europeans alone.

"In some cases, such as Belgium, the number of infants born under IS [105] is over double that of child and teenage travellers [45], thus underlining the necessity for states to prepare for even greater numbers of returnee minors and particularly infants," says the report.

The researchers warn that extensive gaps in the data from some countries, particularly from around north Africa, as well as inside the conflict zones, makes it difficult to have a true assessment of the overall picture.

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