(CN) – After three women dressed in burqas attacked a police station in Mombasa, Kenya, in September 2016, the Islamic State praised the assailants as “supporters” of their terrorist organization.
Typically, the Islamic State group describes male members who carry out violent attacks as “soldiers.”
The European Union’s police agency seized upon this distinction Friday to chart the gender dynamics of Islamist extremism in report titled “Women in Islamic State Propaganda: Roles and Incentives.”
“What is certain is that women have become indispensable to IS, both in conflict areas and in the West (including in the European Union),” Europol’s 35-page report states. “They play their role in the organization’s state-building enterprise, produce and disseminate propaganda and have seemingly been granted more proactive roles on the ‘battlefield.’ The worry is that this increase in the involvement of women could pave the way for potentially major changes in the role of jihadi women in the future.”
As a highly conservative and patriarchal organization, the Islamic State prefers for women to fulfill jihad in the role of “traditional stay-at-home mother and wife” who motivates her husband and children into martyrdom. Europol has found, however, that the group is pushing more women to the front lines.
“While IS agrees that offensive jihad is not obligatory for women, it nevertheless encourages women to carry out attacks against the enemy,” Friday’s report states.
Europol Executive Director Catherine De Bolle told the Associated Press that 15% people convicted on “jihadi terrorism charges” in the EU in 2018 were women.
The agency also warned that the group has laid the ideological foundations for a violent shift.
“Numerous examples of women, who either carried out terrorist attacks or were arrested preventively, prove that women are willing to use violence if the ideology allows them to do so,” the report states. “For now, it is not yet their role, but this balance may easily shift according to the organization’s strategic needs and developments on the ground.”