Jihadist brides playing prominent role in ISIS propaganda war
London - British girls who run away to join the Islamic State (ISIS) are playing an increasingly prominent role in the propaganda war, researchers at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR) say.
In their offices in London, a world away from the terror and brutality of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, ICSR researchers spend their days ostensibly cyberstalking British and Western “jihadist brides” on social media.
Monitoring websites such as Twitter, Facebook, Ask.fm and Tumblr, the researchers said they discovered that Western women who run away to join ISIS are not necessarily the deceived and deluded caricatures that the media often portray them to be. In fact, they may be instrumental in recruiting new fighters and inciting attacks at home.
“British women tend to incite [attacks]. They say to people that can’t move to the Islamic State: ‘Why not carry out something at home?’ That’s a common message: If you can’t leave your family behind or afford to move to Syria then carry out something,” researcher and head of the programme Melanie Smith told the United Kingdom’s Observer newspaper.
“To the Muslims in Australia, we say CONTINUE what the brothers planned for Anzac Day and your reward will be with Allah,” tweeted Umm Abdullatif, a female Australian ISIS member, on April 20th following the arrests of five men suspected of plotting an attack in Melbourne.
The portrayal of women as merely providing support and children for male fighters is an outdated notion, the new research suggests. Umm Abdullatif, for example, is reported to be a member of the powerful all-female al-Khansaa Brigade, which is in charge of enforcing ISIS’s laws on women in Raqqa, the ISIS’s capital.
While Glasgow jihadist bride Aqsa Mahmood, also known as Umm Layth, is known to have contacted British schoolgirls with a view to recruitment, in addition to calling for terrorist attacks on the United Kingdom following the example of “brothers from Woolwich, Texas and Boston”.
“If you cannot make it to the battlefield then bring the battlefield to yourself,” she wrote in another tweet.
Smith said: “I don’t think anyone talks about women returning as a risk. While they might not have the same military training, you can see women online being frustrated about the fact they can’t fight and they suggest to each other that they could do something else.”
The ICSR researchers do not interact directly with the women they monitor but say they feel some form of sympathy with their subjects, particularly those in their early teens.
“I feel sympathy for the younger ones,” Smith said. That, however, fades as they become more radical or incite others towards radicalisation. “I don’t feel much pity,” she said. “But I do take an interest in what would have brought them to that decision.”
The research, carried out in conjunction with the ICSR at King’s College London, looks specifically at ISIS’s English-language social media users. Most of the social media accounts are under noms de guerre, with women often having more than one account due to the frequency with which they are shut down for breaching rules on the dissemination of extremist material.
“If you take one account down, three appear in their place,” Smith said.
Researchers report tweets or Facebook messages that point to actual attacks or crimes but they are otherwise inclined to simply monitor and catalogue.
The ICSR research is part of broader efforts in the Arab world and the West to understand and clamp down on the group’s online activities. Europol, the European Union’s police agency, launched a unit dedicated to fighting ISIS online propaganda and recruitment in July. The United Arab Emirates, working with Washington, established the Sawab Center also to counter ISIS online propaganda efforts earlier in July.