As defeat looms, 'Islamic State' calls on women to fight

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

Female members of the 'Islamic State' al-Khansa brigade are pictured with rifles. [Photo courtesy of Mohammed al-Abdullah]

Female members of the 'Islamic State' al-Khansa brigade are pictured with rifles. [Photo courtesy of Mohammed al-Abdullah]

By calling upon women to join the fight in the shrinking areas still under its control in Iraq and Syria, the "Islamic State" (IS) is revealing its growing desperation, observers say.

A campaign under way on IS-linked websites and social media accounts has been calling on women to take up arms and "sacrifice themselves" for the group, British newspaper The Independent reported on October 6th.

The appeal to women "provides strong evidence that the group is lacking in numbers following successive losses", terror group specialist and retired Egyptian military officer Maj. Gen. Yahya Mohammed Ali told Diyaruna.

In the wake of defeats in Syria and Iraq, hundreds of IS fighters have died and many more have fled, he said, leaving female fighters as the last reserve force that can be tapped into.

"At the beginning of 2014, the group boasted of its superior numbers, and its media machine propelled its recruitment efforts by promising financial, moral and sexual rewards," Ali said.

As the international effort to eliminate IS gained force and the group began to experience heavy losses, it began to recruit children, he said, thrusting them into battle and using them to conduct its suicide missions.

"Now, the primary focus is on women who joined the group at its inception, but whose role has been limited to producing offspring, logistical support and monitoring other women in the caliphate," he said.

Women targeted by recruiters

Women have staged IS-claimed suicide attacks on numerous occasions, said Mazen Zaki, director of the new media department at Egypt's Ibn al-Waleed Studies and Field Research Centre.

While the group has exploited this in its recruitment propaganda, he told Diyaruna, the public call for women to join the ranks of IS to fight is new.

In a September analysis, he said, IHS Markit's Conflict Monitor noted that IS has been urging women to become actively engaged in its battles, "in a significant ideological move" that highlights its attempt to boost its ranks.

"While IS has used female suicide bombers in the past, it has not done so in the concentration seen in Mosul, where current estimates of female-led suicide bombings stand at more than 40," said Ludovico Carlino, senior analyst for the Middle East and North Africa for IHS Markit's Conflict Monitor.

"It is as yet unclear whether the spike in female suicide bombings is simply a result of the final pockets of IS resistance or women compelled by the group to execute those attacks, or whether it represents the beginning of a wider trend of female fighters willing to take part in the group’s battles," he said.

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