Leiden Safety and Security Blog

European Female Jihadists in Syria

European Female Jihadists in Syria

The number of young European women travelling abroad to join the "Islamic State" (IS) continues to increase. Most recently, three teenage girls from east London successfully travelled to Syria. They are now believed to reside in Raqqa, the capital of the self-proclaimed Caliphate. Little is known about these women, including their motivations and roles within organisations such as IS. Not only the parents of these women, but also policy makers and scholars wonder why they go and what they are doing out there in Syria, Iraq and a number of other jihadist destinations.

In a Background Note of the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague, Research Fellows prof. dr. Edwin Bakker and ms. Seran de Leede provide preliminary answers and explain what is known so far. They show that the phenomenon of women travelling to war zones to participate in a foreign struggle is not new. The numbers for Syria and Iraq are, however, beyond any comparison. Bakker and de Leede estimate the number of European women in IS-controlled areas at a few hundred, most of them from Germany, France and the United Kingdom. Based on previous research, government reports, newspaper articles, and interviews with relatives of girls in Syria, their background note aims to distinguish key motivations and the specific roles for these women who have joined IS and other jihadist groups. These insights might help to provide starting points for preventing or managing this specific phenomenon that adds to the worries in many European countries about people  – men or women, young or old – joining the violent jihad.

Download the Background Note here.

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