Security services ‘underestimate’ risks posed by female ISIS recruits, UN warns


The security risk posed by female ISIS recruits is being ‘underestimated’ due to gender stereotyping, the head of the UN’s counter-terrorism body has said. 

Michele Coninsx warned that security services often see female terrorists only as ‘victims’ and called for a more ‘nuanced’ approach to dealing with them.  

It comes as Shamima Begum, a British ‘jihadi bride’ who fled her family home in east London in 2015 to join ISIS in Syria, fights to return to the UK so she can stand trial.

Countries ‘underestimate’ the security risk posed by female ISIS recruits because they view them only as ‘victims’, UN’s terror chief warns (pictured, British ISIS member Shamima Begum)

Begum, who married an ISIS fighter and had three children by him, was reportedly a member of ISIS’s armed military police and enforced its strict sharia laws.

She insists that she did not take part in any violence. 

A report by the agency that Ms Coninsx runs – the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate – warned that some UN member states are failing to properly investigate the roles played by women in ISIS.

While many female recruits are victims of the terror cult, it is possible to hold ‘simultaneous roles as supporters and victims’, the report said.

Those who joined ISIS’s so-called caliphate in Syria had ‘supported and facilitated war crimes and terror attacks’, the report added. 

Women’s role in violence – including beheadings, mutilation and stoning – is often ignored, the report warned, partly because of how ISIS itself views women. 

‘While women are often active as online propagandists and recruiters, their involvement in other types of activities, including violence, was less prominently documented online because of ISIS’s restrictive gender norms,’ the report said.

Ms Coninsx echoed the report’s findings in an interview with The Independent, saying that research into women’s roles in ISIS lags far behind that of men.

And, what little research has been done in recent years has often not been fed into practice by security services, she said.

‘While there is a growing awareness among policymakers and practitioners that more attention must be paid to women in a counterterrorism context, gender biases unfortunately continue to persisted,’ she added.

Michele Coninsx (pictured) said a more 'nuanced' view of female terrorists is needed, after her agency warned it is possible for them to be both 'supporters and victims' of terror groups

Michele Coninsx (pictured) said a more ‘nuanced’ view of female terrorists is needed, after her agency warned it is possible for them to be both ‘supporters and victims’ of terror groups

‘It is important to stress that this doesn’t only mean that some continue to underestimate the threat posed by women, but that the complex realities of how and why women become associated with terrorism defy simple solutions and require nuanced approaches.’

Around 900 Britons are though to have left the UK to join ISIS in Syria and Iraq between 2014, when the terror group began capturing territory, and 2019, when its ‘caliphate’ collapsed.

It is not clear how many of those recruits were women, but at least 15 so-called ‘jihadi brides’ – including Shamima Begum – have been publicly identified.

Begum left the UK for Syria when she was aged just 15, and upon arrival was married to a Dutch ISIS fighter and lived in Raqqa, the terror group’s de-facto capital.

After the fall of Baghouz, ISIS’s last sliver of territory in Syria which was recaptured last year, Begum was found living in a detention camp for female ISIS recruits.

In an interview with The Times, a heavily-pregnant Begum said she wanted to return to the UK to give birth to her son and did not regret joining ISIS.

Her son was born just a few days later, but died of pneumonia. She was later stripped of her British citizenship and told she could not return to the UK.

However, the Court of Appeal ruled earlier this month that she should be allowed to return while the case is decided. 

The government has appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, during which time the now-20-year-old will have to remain abroad.

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