Jihadist brides playing prominent role in ISIS propaganda war

Friday 24/07/2015
Renu Begun, sister of teenage British girl Shamima Begun, holds a photo of her sister who might have joined jihadists in Syria.

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The portrayal of women as merely providing support and children for male fighters is an outdated notion, the new research suggests.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.