Female extremists should be seen as threats, not ‘brides’: report

Published: Updated:

Female extremists in Europe or returning from areas such as the ISIS group’s former “caliphate” should be regarded not as “brides” but as militants capable of active roles in future attacks, a report said Thursday.

The study - issued in Brussels by the Slovakia-based non-governmental group GLOBSEC and looking at data from 326 European extremists captured, deported or killed since 2015 - found that though women and girls were a tiny minority of so-called “foreign terrorist fighters”, many still represented a significant threat.

Out of the 43 female suspects in the study, there were cases of “attack planners, active female extremist recruiters, propagandists and what effectively could be called a logistical officer” who had sheltered fighters, it said.

It noted an attempt by a female cell to bomb Paris’s Notre Dame cathedral three years ago and recent efforts by imprisoned European female ISIS members to launch crowd-funding campaigns.

“It becomes clear that the 40+ women included in the dataset are not mere ‘brides’, as the role they play in terrorist networks is more sophisticated and demanding,” the report said.

The thrust of the study examined the connection between crime and extremists, including the fact that many fighters started out with ordinary criminal records and how radicalization plays out behind bars.

A third of the cases studied were foreign fighters who, on return to Europe, “often play the role of extremist entrepreneurs or charismatic cell or network leaders”. Thirty-eight of the individuals were sought by authorities.

At the presentation of the report, EU officials connected to security policy were told that most of those convicted in Europe of terrorism crimes went on to commit crimes after their release. Deradicalization efforts were mostly unsuccessful.

“Dutch staff after years of work could give only two examples of prisoners who were deradicalized,” said Bart Schuurman, a security researcher at Leiden University in the Netherlands who contributed to the report.

“It is well-nigh impossible in most cases.”

He noted that, publicly, the debate about deradicalization remained prominent, but “I don’t think it’s useful”.

Instead, he and others who worked on the report said, prison authorities were focusing more and more on segregating committed extremists from the general incarcerated population to prevent them radicalizing others.