Tag Archives: Female jihad

ISIS and the Social Media Call for Female Jihadis: Love & Romance as Strong Motivators

Female Palestinian suicide bombers attend a news conference in Gaza

“Love” and romance are often underestimated motivators for joining the militant jihad as recently witnessed in the case of Denver teen, Shannon Maureen Conley who was arrested April 8, 2014 while trying to board a flight in Denver with the goal of traveling to Syria to join ISIS. 

Nineteen-year-old Conley, who converted to Islam while a junior in high school, had struck up an online romance with a thirty-two year old Tunisian ISIS fighter who she communicated with via Skype. 

Self-educated in militant jihad ala the “University of Jihad” presently available to all via the Internet, Conley had come to believe that Islamic jihad and fighting with a group like ISIS was the only way to rectify the so called injustices being done against the Muslim world. Conley came to believe that she was called to wage war against “Kafirs” (non-Muslims) and that U.S. law enforcement, government employees and military targets along with any civilians who happened to be on a military bases were legitimate targets for terrorists attacks. 

Conley had in her possession and had studied Al-Qaida’s Doctrine for Insurgency: Abd Al-Aziz Al-Muqrin’s A Practical Course for Guerilla War which included passages underlined by her regarding motorcade attacks and waging guerilla warfare. She also had in her possession DVDs of sermons by Anwar al Awlaki—a charismatic hater of the U.S. who still successfully promotes militant jihad via his Internet presence that lives on long after his death in September 2011 by U.S. drone attack. Al Awlaki is also credited for having influenced Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s militant jihadi beliefs and hatred for the U.S. 

Previous to converting to Islam, Conley had dreamed of joining the U.S. military, but once donning a hidjab and nikab and taking on militant jihadi Muslim beliefs she feared she would not be accepted. Thus, Conley diverted from serving in the U.S. military to receiving training in the U.S. Army Explorers in order to learn U.S. military tactics and train in firearms—skills she hoped to put into use in behalf of ISIS. ISIS for her had gained legitimacy in its euphoric declaration of an Islamic caliphate and was branded for aspiring jihadi Muslim women as a place to go for love and adventure.

Young women like Conley have also gone to join ISIS from France, the UK, and elsewhere.


Two twin sixteen-year-old Somali descent schoolgirls from the UK, Salma and Zahra Halane, each abruptly abandoned their plans to train as doctors and left to join their brother who was already a fighter for over a year in ISIS. Officials feared that the girls who left their parents home in the middle of the night may have had their trips bankrolled by ISIS fighters who wanted them as brides.  In June, Britian’s interior minister, Theresa May, stated that of the four hundred UK lined individuals who have gone to Syria, about a dozen of them are women. Two French girls—aged only fifteen and seventeen were also reported to have been captured by security previous to leaving the country to join the jihad. 

An imam to the diaspora Somali community in Minneapolis also recently warns that ISIS has stepped up its social media campaign to attract young women and potential brides to come join the group. Clearly the men there need brides as horrifying news reports abound of hundreds of Yazidi women abducted by ISIS being handed out or sold to members of the group—many of the women forced to convert to Islam in order to be married to the fighters. 

It’s not only potential suitors luring women into the battlefield–it’s also other women already there who tweet and blog from the battlefield on the joys of jihadi family life and the “honor” of giving birth and raising the future mujahideen (warriors). “I will never be able to do justice with words as to how this place makes me feel” Umm Layth (mother of Layth) tweets as she writes about her cherished relationships living among “her fellow sisters and brothers in the Islamic state.”

And while traditional wives everywhere have enjoyed the earned statuses of their husbands, women how have swallowed the militant jihadi ideology eagerly look forward to the potential death of their husbands knowing that his attaining “martyrdom” ensures their exalted status as widows of “martyrs” forever after. Umm Layth tweets “Allahu Akbar, there’s no way to describe the feeling of sitting with the Akhawat [sisters] waiting on news of whose Husband has attained Shahadah [martyrdom]”. 

Conley was trained as a nursing assistant and expected to marry her suitor upon arrival to Syria. She told FBI agents that she wanted to wage war there but if she were prevented, as a woman, from joining the fighters on the battlefield she would put her medical skills to work in assisting her fellow jihadis. Essentially she was going to exchange a boring life here of changing bedpans and living a quiet existence as a covered woman to the exciting life of being married to a fellow jihadi while putting her medical skills to serious use on an active battlefield.

When warned by FBI agents of potential criminal charges if she continued on her path to militant jihad, Conley answered that she would rather “be in prison that do nothing” to help the militant jihadi cause.  Like many young people she was totally filled with the dream of an adventure—in her case with the exhilaration of a love affair occurring with the backdrop of war surrounding them, with the possibility of Islamic “martyrdom” being achieved for either or both of them.

While romantic love, adventure and the call of jihad beckoned Conley overseas, she also admitted to FBI agents that she thought it possible for her to plan a motorcade attack inside the U.S. but that she thought U.S. security would prevent her from successfully carrying it out. This is the worrying factor when it comes to social media and Internet reach inside the U.S. from members of militant jihadi groups like al Shabaab in Somalia and now ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

Through relationships struck up over the Internet—particularly romantic ones that have a high motivating factor—but also through relationships that existed between jihadis who have gone overseas and kept in touch via social media with the “homies” back home—ISIS fighters can have a very long reach right inside the U.S.

And through Conley’s example, and many others, we see that the ISIS reach into the minds and hearts of U.S. citizens can motivate them to abandon home, family, even their own children, and careers to go overseas to join groups like ISIS or even more chillingly to plan an attack right here on native soil as Conley admits she briefly considered.

Conley and her Tunisian suiter asked her father, John Conley, via Skype-for permission to marry. Mr. Conley refused.  The refusal of a bride’s father in Islam should have prevented her from perserving, but ISIS and other similar groups have found a way around that—they appoint a guardian in the group to give her permission. 

In the online social conversation with women already inside ISIS, the hurdle of overcoming parental opposition is discussed in earnest. Umm Anwar, a western woman who joined ISIS tweets that in her case the emir (leader) of her prospective husband was appointed and he phoned her father “to ask for my dad’s consent by phone.” 

Umm Layth who has over two thousand Twitter followers warns that it is difficult to go ahead in the face of family opposition, “Even if you know how right this path and decision is and how your love for Allah comes before anything and everything, this is still an ache which only one [who] has been through and experienced it can understand. The first phone call you make once you cross the borders is one of the most difficult things you will ever have to do…when you hear them sob and beg like crazy on the phone for you to come back it’s so hard.” 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK based group even reported that in July the Islamic State opened a marriage bureau the Syria for women who want to wed its fighters. 

In Conley’s case it was her father that thwarted her plans—he called the FBI when he saw his daughter’s one-way ticket to fly to Turkey. He likely saved her life and perhaps many more lives of whoever she was planning to attack, and also urge onward into militant jihad.

Conley has since been charged with trying to provide material support and resources, including personnel and expert advice, to a foreign terrorist organization—in this case ISIS. Had Conley made it to Syria, she would have been one of at least one hundred people from the United States who have thus far joined ISIS.

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University in the Medical School and in the Security Studies Program. She is author of Talking to Terrorists and was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to twenty thousand detainees and eight hundred juveniles.  She also has interviewed over four hundred terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including Gaza, the West Bank, Chechnya, Iraq, Jordan and many countries in Europe.

“Sex Jihad”—A New Role for Extremist Women in Militant Jihadi Groups?

When Ayman Zawahiri’s wife, the al Qaeda successor to Osama bin Ladin, was asked in 2009 about the permissible roles of women in waging jihad she wrote a letter to her “Muslim sisters” encouraging them to leave the fighting to the men and to wage jihad through giving money, Internet support and by training up the next generation of young believers for jihad.  She reminded women of their duty: ‘to goad their brothers, husbands and sons to defend Muslims’ territories and properties … to assist the (male) jihadis with prayers and money.’ She also warned Muslim women not “to abandon [the modesty] of her appearance and covering herself, this is [necessarily] followed by a series of other [neglects] that push her away from her religion.’

While this was the central al Qaeda party line in 2009, it now appears that a new militant jihadi role has emerged for women—at least for Tunisian women who are reportedly going off to Syria to sexually “comfort” the rebels fighting there.

And it’s become enough of a problem that Tunisian Interior Minister Lotfi ben Jeddou announced Thursday to the National Constituent Assembly that an alarming number of Tunisian women have gone to aid rebel militants in Syria having “sexual relations with 20, 30, 100 militants” adding that “After the sexual liaisons they have there in the name of “jihad al-nikah’ [translated as sexual holy war] they come home pregnant.”

Following this statement, the Tunisia women’s ministry said on Saturday that they are drawing up plans to counter the growing number of women going to Syria to comfort militants. “The ministry intends to boost its cooperation with both government and non-government bodies on this issue to come up with appropriate ways to thwart the plans of those who encourage such practices,” a ministry statement announced.

While neither ministry gave any figures about the numbers of Tunisian women taking part in “jihad al-nikah” media reports have said hundreds of Tunisian women have gone to Syria for such purposes—some of them perhaps following the hundreds of men who have also been joining militants to battle the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. It appears that the practice of permitting extramarital sexual relations with multiple partners via temporary marriage contracts is viewed by militant jihadi groups affiliated with al Qaeda as a legitimate form of holy war.


Over the past fifteen years thousands of Tunisians took part in militant jihadi battles in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Syria. Interior Minister ben Jeddou stated that in the past six months since he’d taken office he had instituted increased border controls that had thwarted six thousand young persons from traveling to Syria to join the rebels and that eighty individuals organizing travel to Syria had also been arrested.


While I’ve been studying female terrorists for years now noting the number of roles they often play in militant jihadi groups—from translators of texts that glorify and justify terrorism, to couriers of messages and money, cooks and support roles in militant camps, trainers of the new generation of militants and for those willing to give up their lives for the cause—carriers of suicide bombs, this is completely new to me.

In all of my interviews, with and about female terrorists involved in militant jihadi groups, I’ve always been impressed that despite the many roles they may take on—they rarely—if ever hold leadership roles or wield much power.  Indeed in the Nord Ost siege in Moscow where eight hundred hostages were held for three days the terrorist women took orders from the men.  And despite being rigged with suicide bombs strapped around their waists not one of the twenty women dared detonate before being overcome with gas while their men went out in the foyer to fight the onslaught of Russian Special Forces. In that case the women’s doubt to take initiative may have saved the hostages who survived the gassing that occurred by their own side.

While sexual relations do play a role in militant jihadi groups, often claims are made by opposing forces that militant jihadis coerce women into becoming suicide bombers by raping or compromising them sexually.  However for most of the women I’ve interviewed—or if they are an already dead suicide bomber I talked to their family members or close associates and sometimes also to their senders—most appear to have gone willingly.  They didn’t need to be compromised or coerced inside conflict zones but instead begged their senders to equip them to enact revenge for traumatic experiences they had undergone at the hands of their enemy.  Their own men had no need to use rape or sexual coercion to motivate them.

In non-conflict zones females get involved for more complicated reasons involving converts who may want to purify themselves—like Muriel Degauque in Belgium who appeared to want to cleanse herself from survival guilt and her past by becoming a “martyr”.  Likewise in the Netherlands a small group of girls seduced into a militant jihadi group signed last wills and testaments and offered themselves in informal marriages to young men who promised to become “martyrs” apparently seeing themselves exalted among their peers in the future by becoming widows of “martyrs”.

In the case of the Tunisian girls who are going to Syria it still remains unclear if they are following young men they love and then end up servicing the needs of many, or if they are voluntarily engaging in such acts, or somehow coerced. Despite the strict practice of Islam—one thing clear in Islamic culture is a healthy respect for the sex drives of both males and females.  Perhaps in this case some Tunisian females are finding a way to throw off all fetters and embrace their sexuality? And it is also not clear who takes responsibility for the babies born out of such sexual liaisons and if the girls are accepted back into society when they return home?  If the extremists group’s bonds are strong it may be that extremists at home protect them just as widows and children of “martyred” fighters in Palestine and Chechnya also receive support.

In April, the former mufti of Tunisia Sheikh Othman Battikh speaking about thirteen girls that had been sent to Syria for such purposes, said that Tunisian girls were being fooled into going to provide sexual services and he named these services prostitution—moral and educational corruption.

While their services are likely much appreciated by the rebels receiving them—it does seem it can hardly be good for the women involved.

New note:  Interestingly it appears there may be a campaign of disinformation regarding “sex jihad” having begun with RT who IS DEFINITELY reporting pro-Assad propaganda.  Yet even this article states, “So what then can we make of the Interior Minister’s statements? Dismissing them is not an option, yet questioning them certainly is as ultimately we don’t have enough details about the story from the source itself, Ben Jeddou, whose information more than likely came from within the intelligence service in his ministry and not (hopefully) from online gossip sites.” and “What we do know is that, according to the Tunisian government, at least thirteen Tunisian girls are missing, several hundred Tunisian men have allegedly gone to join Syrian rebels, several thousand have been stopped from going to Syria and we know that sex (especially in terms of sexual violence and exploitation) is an inseparable part of any conflict and war.” For me I would hope the Interior Minister of a country would be a reliable source regarding his own citizens…but perhaps that is hoping for too much…

9-26-2013 more information (via Berto Jongman – thank you Berto!) We have new claimed information in the continuing saga of the so called “sex jihad” reports of Arab reports of actual women who have taken part.  Are these credible sources? Honestly I don’t know, but either way — a propaganda campaign started by RT or for real? –It’s fascinating to follow and if real, very sad for the women involved…. For more on claims of interviews of actual women involved…http://frontpagemag.com/2013/dgreenfield/sex-jihadist-catches-aids-serving-servicing-free-syrian-army-holy-warriors/

Another interesting piece sent by Berto Jongman (thank you Berto!) http://www.humanevents.com/2013/09/25/sex-jihad-and-western-disbelief/