Leiden Safety and Security Blog

‘Aicha’; or, why girls join Jihad in Syria

‘Aicha’; or, why girls join Jihad in Syria

It’s not just the foreign fighters that head for Syria and Iraq to join Jihad. The case of a nineteen year old Dutch convert girl illustrates that different people with various purposes want to go there for different reasons.

"It used to be very rare until a year ago, but more and more this year girls have joined fighters in Syria. Many of them are very young," responded Edwin Bakker on news broadcaster Al-Jazeera on Friday 21 November 2014. That day the Dutch teenager, known as ‘Aicha’ appeared before Dutch court. She drew international media attention by the fact that her mother allegedly went to Islamic State held territory to get her daughter back.

‘Aicha’ left for Syria with the hope and intent to marry Omar Yilmaz, a Dutch foreign fighter who uses his own military background in the Netherlands’ army to train jihadists in Syria to fight against the Syrian regime. 

Earlier in 2014, the case of a fifteen –year old girl from the Netherlands received media attention as well. She wanted to travel towards Syria to join Jihad, but her motivations remain unclear

What motivates these girls to travel from a safe western country to a conflict zone?

Research indicates that many of these women independently search for ways to travel to the Caliphate. In their secular home countries, they feel discriminated against and unwelcome. They believe that  in the Caliphate, they can live their lives as devout Muslims by Sharia law, in a more just society. While the women in the IS do not actively contribute to the fight on the frontline, their role as supporters of their husbands and as builders of the new state is not less important.

Still, it seems a paradox that this ‘”jihadi girl power” often comes at other women's expense’ on the one hand, with the Islamic State offering a clear and important role for women within the Jihad. On the other hand, the organization acts extremely brutal towards any opposition, including towards women.

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