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Bombshells: Women and Terror

Abstract

Terrorism is considered the ultimate “weapon of the weak”. Groups that could not possibly succeed using conventional tactics on the battlefield employ unconventional means to strike terror behind the battle lines. Increasingly, however, the “weakest” members of society, notably women and children, have been drawn into the fray as operatives. Once an occasional occurrence, the use of women is growing at an alarming rate. Using female recruits provides the terrorist organizations with a comparative advantage, particularly the element of surprise. At the same time, this strategy damages the psychological well being and morale of the soldiers opposing them. Soldiers have been trained to protect the civilian population. US Army doctrine specifies that, “preserving noncombatant lives and dignity is central to mission accomplishment in counterinsurgency” (Lt. Col. Perez in The embedded morality in FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency, Military Review, 32) The requirement to shoot people that soldiers are ordinarily trained to protect can have deep psychological impact disproportionate to killing adult men. This often results in higher levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and battle fatigue. The upsurge in female suicide bombers has occurred across a variety of nationalistic and secular groups but has also spread to the conservative religious terror networks. This article assesses the growing phenomenon of female terrorists and looks at the different roles that women play in terrorist organizations. It also analyzes the different mechanisms for women’s mobilization and briefly discusses whether women are coerced or are willing participants in terrorist violence.

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Notes

  1. Bergin [3].

  2. Browne and Watson [13].

  3. Atrous was sentenced to death and her sentence is currently under appeal in Jordan.

  4. French police are on the alert for Algerian women suicide bombers, October 2010.

  5. Tariq al-Sha'b published a 230-word report citing the Interior Ministry that four people were killed and 23 others, were injured in a suicide bombing carried out be a female suicide bomber the Al-Anbar governorate advisory council in Ramadi, 4 July, 2010. The bomber detonated an explosive vest inside the female search-and-check room in the building. A similar report appeared in [55].

  6. Crilly [14].

  7. Ricks [34].

  8. Ali [1].

  9. McDonald [27].

  10. Interviews with former bombers, Belfast, August 2009 [47].

  11. Interviews conducted by the author in the Vanni and Kilinochi, November 2002 [48].

  12. Siljak [40].

  13. Blee [12].

  14. O’Connor [29].

  15. Gerecht [19].

  16. Merari et al. [28, pp. 102–119].

  17. Bloom [9].

  18. Bloom [8], 2005 op.cit.

  19. Kirk [25], Cubilie [15], Joseph [24], Reed [33].

  20. Weinberg and Eubank [45, pp. 242–243].

  21. Galvin [17, pp. 19–32].

  22. Frazier [18].

  23. Davis [16].

  24. Bloom [25, p. 57].

  25. Cited in Bloom [6, p. 145]

  26. Berko and Edna [5, pp. 493–519]. Berko [4], Schweitzer [39], Speckhard and Akhmedova [42, pp. 67–68].

  27. See for example Pape [30] and Schweitzer [39], op.cit.

  28. Patkin [31].

  29. Schweitzer [39].

  30. Schweitzer, op.cit, Pape [30].

  31. Anat Berko, The Path to Paradise, op.cit, Skaine [41].

  32. Merari et al. [28, pp. 102–119]

  33. Beate Arnestad interview with Darshika and Puhalchudar in the film “My Daughter the Terrorist: Black Tiger Suicide Cadres Tell Their Story,” [2].

  34. Mia Bloom, Dying to Kill, op.cit [47].

  35. See for example this transition in Sageman’s [36].

  36. Galvin [17, pp. 19–32].

  37. Horgan [21].

  38. I am indebted to Farhana Ali for this typology, personal communications with the author, September 2006.

  39. See for example, Victor [44], Skaine [41], Berko [4], op.cit.

  40. Schechter [38].

  41. Jones [23].

  42. Ismail [22].

  43. Zimbardo [46, pp. 21–51].

  44. David Brooks, The Culture of Martyrdom, The Atlantic, June 2002. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2002/06/the-culture-of-martyrdom/2506/.

  45. Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, cited by Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook, PMW, July 29, 2010 [51].

  46. Defence of Muslim Lands [52].

  47. Lahoud [26].

  48. Lahoud [50].

  49. Military Intelligence Interrogator deployed in Iraq, conversation with the author, August 12, 2010 (name withheld).

  50. See [53].

  51. Salbi [37].

  52. Bloom [11].

  53. Bloom [10, pp. 445–450]

  54. According to Al Jazeera [54] and Al-Hayat Al-Jadida [51].

  55. For example, see Suddath [43], Robertson and Cruikshank [35].

  56. See [49].

  57. Bloom [7].

  58. Hoffman [20].

  59. Galvin [17, pp. 19–32].

  60. Lt. Col. Perez [32].

  61. Ibid

  62. Ricks [34].

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Interviews

  1. Interviews with former female members of the PIRA, Belfast, August 2009.

  2. Interviews conducted by the author in the Vanni and Kilinochi, November 2002.

  3. Interview with Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, May 11, 2007. http://sharmeenobaidfilms.com/archives/86.

  4. Nelly Lahoud, Interview with the author, October 13, 2010.

Newspapers and Online Reports

  1. Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, July 29, 2010.

  2. Defence of Muslim Lands, http://www.religioscope.com/info/doc/jihad/azzam_defence_3_chap1.htm.

  3. “Mother of the Female Bombers Speaks out.” Die Welt, February 5, 2009.

  4. Al Jazeera Satellite Channel, July 4, 2006 (14:12 GMT).

  5. Al-Sabah, July 4, 2010 p. 4, Aswat al-Iraq, Arbil, 5 Jul 2010.

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Acknowledgments

This research is supported by a grant from the Office of Naval Research (ONR), US Department of the Navy No N00014-09-1-0557.

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Correspondence to Mia Bloom.

Additional information

Portions of this article are taken from an earlier draft of Bombshell: the Many Faces of Women Terrorists. Toronto: Penguin (Viking) 2011. I would like to thank John Horgan and Paul Gill for their comments on earlier drafts and Shireen Judeh and Yael Miller for their research assistance.

This paper represents the views of the authors alone and do not represent the Navy or the Department of Defense. All errors or omissions are the fault of the authors alone.

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Bloom, M. Bombshells: Women and Terror. Gend. Issues 28, 1–21 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12147-011-9098-z

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Keywords

  • Women
  • Terrorism
  • Terrorist
  • Mobilization
  • Rape
  • Occupation
  • Suicide Bombers