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The Woman Terrorist by Air Marshal Anil Chopra

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Author: Air Marshal Anil Chopra PVSM, AVSM, VM, VSM (Retd)
Women terrorists have had crucial impacts on history.  For example, the assassination of Czar Alexander II in 1881 was organised by a woman and many nineteenth-century revolutionaries were female. More than half the suicide bombers seen around the world since 2002 have been women.

Thenmozhi “Gayatri” Rajaratnam more famously known as ‘Dhanu’ blew herself up on 21 May 1991 in a suicide bombing attack to assassinate former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Fourteen others were also killed in the south Indian town of Sriperumbudur near Chennai. She was known to have been a member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE). Female suicide bombers have been employed in many, predominantly nationalistic, conflicts by a variety of organisations against both military and civilian targets. Between 30 and 40 per cent of the LTTE’s suicide bombings were carried out by women. 

In April 1985, Sanaá Mehaidli, a member of Syrian Social National Party detonated an explosive-laden vehicle in Lebanon killing two Israeli soldiers. The Chechen Shahidkas have attacked Russian troops and civilians repeatedly and were part of the Moscow theatre hostage crisis. Women of dreaded Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) have been engaged in suicide bombings against Turkish Armed forces. They sometimes strapped explosives to their abdomen pretending pregnancy.

Wafa Idris of Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade was the first female Palestinian suicide bomber when she imploded herself in 2002 in Central Jerusalem. On February 27, 2002 Darine Abu Aisha executed a suicide bombing at a checkpoint of Israeli Army in Jerusalem. Hamas religious leader Yassin issued a fatwa the same day authorising women to participate in more suicide attacks with promise of reward in the after-life in heaven. Hamas formally deployed its first female bomber in January 2004 when Reem Riyashi blew herself along with seven targets at a check post. Two Iraqi female terrorists attacked US troops in Iraq in August, 2003. The two Moscow Subway station incidents of March 2010 where 38 people were killed was handiwork of two Chechen female terrorists. The Taliban has used at least one female suicide bomber in Afghanistan. On December 25, 2010, a first female suicide bomber in Pakistan detonated her explosives-laden vest, killing at least 43 people at an aid distribution centre. On December 29, 2013, a female Chechen suicide bomber detonated her vest in the Volgograd railway station killing 17 persons. In addition to the Red Army Faction and its sister organisation, the Second of June Movement. Women have also been central figures in Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers, Indian Naxalite movement, Italy’s Red Brigades, Spain’s Basque ETA, the Japanese Red Army, Chechen terrorism, Middle Eastern and African terrorism. Women also play other supporting roles such as acting as getaway drivers or safe house custodians, smuggling contraband for men in prison and instigating assaults and murders.


What Drives Women Terrorists?

Women terrorists have had crucial impacts on history.  For example, the assassination of Czar Alexander II in 1881 was organised by a woman and many nineteenth-century revolutionaries were female. More than half the suicide bombers seen around the world since 2002 have been women.  In places like Chechnya and Sri Lanka, women constitute at least 30 per cent of the fighting force. By current estimates, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade has over 300 in its special unit of female suicide bombers.  Terrorist groups around the world actively seek women converts (from other ethnicities) because such people can carry European passports and evade checks.  Women have been involved with terrorism for a long now. What motivates their involvement?

Motives for women to join terrorist groups are not significantly different from their male counterparts – hopelessness, fight for a cause and poverty are the common causes. In cultures where they are oppressed and considered as lower beings the chances of their joining are much higher. The Chechen “Shahidkas” also known as “Black Widows” or “Brides of Allah” are either young widows of terrorists or have strong hatred for Russians and have been trained by psychologists and religious preachers. On the other extreme was rich American heiress Patty Hearst who was abducted, abused, raped and brainwashed to becoming a terrorist. Ulrike Meinh was a famous German terrorist with leftist values who founded Bader-Meinhof group and engaged in bombings against Americans or pro-West Germans. Leader of the Japanese Red Army Fusako  Shifenobu has been engaged in attacks against American consulates. “Palestinian Woman Fighters” want to fight Israel alongside the men. Dead ‘terror heroines’ like Dalal El Mughrabois are admired by all and act as role models. Great advantage for women is that they are much less suspected. In a traditional dress they can mingle in a crowded place and commit a suicide attack. Their children are later taken care of and are taught that their proud mothers were martyrs for a ‘Great Cause’.

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