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Between 1985 and 2008, female suicide bombers committed more than 230 attacks—about a quarter of all such acts. Women have become the ideal stealth weapon for terrorist groups. They are less likely to be suspected or searched and as a result have been used to strike at the heart of coalition troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. This alarming tactic has been highly effectiv, garnering extra media attention and helping to recruit more numbers to the terrorists' cause. Yet, as Mia Bloom explains in Bombshell: Women and ...
Between 1985 and 2008, female suicide bombers committed more than 230 attacks—about a quarter of all such acts. Women have become the ideal stealth weapon for terrorist groups. They are less likely to be suspected or searched and as a result have been used to strike at the heart of coalition troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. This alarming tactic has been highly effectiv, garnering extra media attention and helping to recruit more numbers to the terrorists' cause. Yet, as Mia Bloom explains in Bombshell: Women and Terrorism, female involvement in terrorism is not confined to suicide bombing and not limited to the Middle East.
From Northern Ireland to Sri Lanka, women have been engaged in all manner of terrorist activities, from generating propaganda to blowing up targets. What drives women to participate in terrorist activities? Bloom—a scholar of both international studies and women's studies—blends scrupulous research with psychological insight to unearth affecting stories from women who were formerly terrorists. She moves beyond gender stereotypes to examine the conditions that really influence female violence, arguing that while women terrorists can be just as bloodthirsty as their male counterparts, their motivations tend to be more intricate and multilayered. Through compelling case studies she demonstrates that though some of these women volunteer as martyrs, many more have been coerced by physical threats or other means of social control.
As evidenced by the March 2011 release of Al Qaeda's magazine Al Shamikha, dubbed the jihadi Cosmo, it is clear that women are the future of even the most conservative terrorist organizations. Bombshell is a groundbreaking book that reveals the inner workings of a shocking, unfamiliar world.
"Engrossing. . . . This balanced, readable account offers invaluable insights into a hidden and disturbing world."—Publishers Weekly
"Mia Bloom's Bombshell is a genuine contribution to our understanding of women and terrorism. It demystifies the myths about female terrorists, who often form the invisible infrastructure of terrorism."—Marc Sageman, author of Leaderless Jihad and Understanding Terror Networks
"A highly readable analysis of why and how women become suicide bombers, and the reasons why some terrorist organizations deploy them as a weapon of last resort. Bloom's case studies will provoke passionate debate."—Paul Wilkinson, author of Terrorism Versus Democracy
We need to work past gender stereotypes and begin to examine the conditions that really influence female violence. We do not want to excuse the women's behavior, nor do we want to denude their actions of their political motivation. Lots of women are just as bloodthirsty as the male members of terrorist groups, but women's motivations tend to be intricate, multi-layered, and inspired on a variety of levels. Anger, sorrow, the desire for revenge, and nationalist or religious zeal coalesce in ways that make any simple explanation impossible. Given that terrorist groups gain so much from women's participation, it is far easier to understand why terrorist groups seek female activists than to explain why women oblige them by heeding the call to action.
I have attempted to make these complexities accessible for as wide an audience as possible, from the general reader to the counterterrorism analyst. I aim to clarify the various reasons why women might choose terror and to explain the many roles they take on when they make that choice.
My work has always sought to bridge the divide between political science and policy. To understand what is going on, I have found we need to better understand the past. If we fail to take into account the history of violence, we will never be able to anticipate what is likely to happen in the future.
The stories presented in this book shed light on the conditions under which women are mobilized themselves or mobilize others for terrorism. The book also explains the unique pressures women face during conflict and how they can become involved in the struggle, sometimes against their will. The women presented here encompass a spectrum of involvement and provide an insider's view of the many faces of women and terror.
In any book focused on only a handful of cases, it is important to address the issue of case selection and to explain why these cases in particular were chosen. In this book, because of how terrorism is defined, I opted to focus on women who were primarily involved in terrorist activities. Thus the female Maoist insurgents in Nepal, while certainly compelling, were excluded from this study since their major activities are not terrorism. My goal was also to focus on women's involvement in current terrorist organizations and especially those where we know very little or have gotten the story wrong in the past. To this extent I briefly discuss women's involvement in terrorism from the time of the anarchists at the turn of the century (Narodnaya Volya) to the 1960s and 1970s, when women were key figures in the Italian Red Brigades and the Red Army Faction (Baader Meinhof). In truth, many of the cases chosen for this study were based on the accessibility of interviews, the availability of high-quality secondary sources if primary interviews were not possible, and my previous expertise with various regions around the world in order to be able to judge the quality of the materials (both in the personal interviews and in the secondary sources).
My long-standing experience with the Arab-Israeli conflict made the case study of Ahlam Al-Tamimi compelling as she has since the Sbarro Pizzeria attack become the new feminine face of Harnas. My own fieldwork and experiences in Sri Lanka also led me to compare the women of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam with the women of other terrorist organizations, merging my own interviews with those conducted by journalists. My field research in Northern Ireland and access to several women who were former members of the provisional IRA made that part of the study invaluable. My fascination with the women of the Jemaat Islamiyya in Indonesia and the fact that so little is known about them encouraged me to contrast these women with the women of Al Qaeda and those in the Chechen conflict.
Most of all, it was crucial for me to demonstrate that terrorism is not a purely Islamic phenomenon, and also that the women involved in terrorism play a variety of roles in those movements. While the media might often focus exclusively on the bomber, women have been engaged in all manner of terrorist activities, from generating propaganda to blowing up targets.
At one point, I conjectured that the women in Islamist organizations would increasingly be the focus of the next generation of young Al Qaeda leaders; the release in March 2011 of Al Shamikha magazine, dubbed in the press the jihadi Cosmo, bore out these predictions. It is now clear that women are the future of even the most conservative terrorist organizations and once women are profiled and suspected, the groups will. once again shift their operations—this time by using younger and younger operatives, which is the subject of my next book.
A few comments regarding names. Where possible, I have used the most common transliterations, although this poses some problems when multiple spellings exist simultaneously. For Russian names, the female patronymic always includes an a, and so within the same family, the women's last names will be Ganiyeva, for example, while the men's will be Ganiyev. I have followed standard usage in academic literature and used the a rather than the e for Russian transliteration—for example, Basayev rather than Basaev or Bcsaev. Also, where either a b or a p is used, I have deferred to the p, and so, for instance, have used the name Vagapov rather than Vagabov, although both occur in journalists' accounts.
For Chechen names, an additional complication is that Chechens often have official names, which appear on their passports but arc rarely used within the family, and nicknames, regularly used at home. For the purposes of consistency, I have provided the reader with both. In many cases the nickname makes sense, and Raisa becomes Reshat, for example; in other cases, however, the nickname has little or no connection to the passport name, and thus Fatima might become Milana.
As for Arabic names, I have used the most common spelling for the names of individuals and organizations, although this too might cause some confusion. Thus the Lebanese terrorist group Party of Allah, more commonly known as Hizb'allah, can be spelled as Hezbollah, Hizbullah, Hizbollah, or Hizballah. I have chosen the most anglicized version, Hezbollah. The same considerations apply to the name Muhammed, which can also be spelled as Muhammad or Mohammed. Where possible, I have provided the reader with the simplest translations of foreign material when I have used sources in Arabic, Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, or Russian.
Excerpted from BOMBSHELL by MIA BLOOM Copyright © 2011 by University of Pennsylvania Press. Excerpted by permission of University of Pennsylvania Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Prologue: Moscow, March 2010
1 A Brief History of Terror and the Logic of Oppression
2 The Black Widow Bombers
3 The "Pregnant" Bomber
4 The Scout
5 The Future Bombers
6 The Crucial Links
7 The Recruiters and Propagandists
8 The Fours Rs plus One