Cruel Intentions: Female Jihadists in America

The notion of women in terrorism pushed its way to the forefront of the American mindset on December 2, 2015, when Tashfeen Malik and her husband, Syed Farook, opened fire at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California. After the couple killed 14 and injured 22, the growing threat posed by female jihadists in America became immediately apparent to policymakers, law enforcement officials, and the public. Some reports, citing law enforcement officials, claim that Malik pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Facebook the day of the attack.2 IS later praised the couple’s actions in Dabiq, its official English-language magazine, affiliating themselves with the duo.3 Despite these assertions, the FBI’s most recent report has not yet determined a direct link to IS.4 Details about the couple’s path to violence remain buried in an ongoing investigation that may take years to reach the public. In spite of this obstacle, Malik’s case offers exceptional insight into the complex, morphing ventures of jihadist women in America. It is difficult to discern the exact rate at which women participate in jihadist movements in the United States, but the surge in relevant legal cases suggests this figure is on the rise. In the decade following 9/11, only a handful of prominent cases, like that of Aafia Siddiqui5 and Colleen LaRose,6 have shown the threat female jihadists could pose to national security. In recent years, instances of terrorism-related activity perpetrated by women have increased in number. Since 2011, at least 25 known cases of jihadi women with connections to the U.S. have emerged, shedding light on the myriad roles adopted by female jihadists. While few follow in Tashfeen Malik’s footsteps and pursue violent plots, many disseminate propaganda or donate resources to show their support. In some instances, women travel abroad to make direct contributions to a particular group. This report uses a wealth of primary and secondary data to examine the efforts of 25 American jihadi women since 2011.7 The cases offer a tremendous diversity of demographic data, suggesting that an overarching profile of the female jihadist is indiscernible. Moreover, within the dataset, women align themselves with a range of organizations including, but not limited to, IS, al-Shabaab, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda.

Tags: Al Shabaab, Al-Qaeda, Gender, ISIS, Taliban, Violent Jihadism