Jihadist women are using social media to recruit other women for the Islamic State’s declared “caliphate.” The practice is not a new phenomenon. Western females who have migrated to the Islamic State have used various online platforms to lure young women into jihad in Syria. These recruiters hail from a variety of Western countries, including Norway, Canada, the United Kingdom, Austria, France, the Netherlands, and the US.
On February 14, the al-Khans’aa Media Brigade, the women’s media arm of the al-Battar Media Foundation, tweeted a set of photos encouraging women to defend the caliphate and fight its enemies through what it calls an “economic war,” “ideological war,” and “electronic war.” One of the images reads “active participation in their hash tags, and discussion forums as much as possible (electronic war).” While the same image advocates that women boycott products “of the oppressive crusade” for the “economic war,” it suggests women fight the “ideological war” by abstaining from the lifestyles of the crusaders and “revealing the hatred towards them.”
Similar to various Islamic State propaganda material purportedly produced by women and for women, the images stress the important role women play in the home. Specifically, one message states that a way to begin in the home is “by teaching those under your custody (kids) to hate the cross and its people, for this is the first step in making a Mujahid generation.” Echoing this message, this week, the Islamic State attacked multiple Assyrian Christian villages in Syria and took inhabitants hostage. The amount of residents captured varies across press reports, but the Assyrian Human Rights Network claims the number of Christians kidnapped is as high as 262 .
The emphasis on the role of women in the home was also seen in last month’s manifesto released by the al-Khans’aa Brigade, the all-female group known for enforcing strict sharia law in the militant group’s stronghold of Raqqa, Syria. [See LWJ report, Islamic State al-Khans’aa Brigade publishes manifesto for women.] Additionally, the images released on Twitter and the manifesto both reference the West and its corruption of Muslims. One image mentioning the West touts that the caliphate “took the imprisoned women out of the prisons of Westernization which humiliated the women, and downed their positions.”
The electronic war aspect of the jihadist group’s campaign is a tactic that female Islamic State recruiters have employed in the past to bring western women to Syria, most notably in the recent case of the three British girls who traveled to the caliphate, in addition to the October case of three girls from Denver, Colorado, who attempted to migrate to the Islamic State but were stopped in Frankfurt, Germany and sent back home. The New York Times recently reported that one of the British girls had sent a Twitter message to Aqsa Mahmood, also known as Umm Layth, prior to their journey. Mahmood, who left her home in Scotland in November 2013 to join the Islamic State, is known for her Tumblr blog and propaganda tweets encouraging Western women to migrate to the caliphate. And, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, one of the Denver, Colorado girls had been in contact with another female Islamic State recruiter known as Umm Waqqas. Umm Waqqas and Umm Layth were also in contact with each other via Twitter.
According to a July report in the Financial Times, jihadist women use various social media platforms, including Kik, Twitter, and Tumblr, to help potential migrants travel to Syria. The question and answer website Ask.fm has also become a popular platform for jihadists, and in the case of one of the Colorado teens, shows evidence of her radicalization over time.
In September, the Telegraph reported that several British women joined the al-Khans’aa Brigade, including Mahmood. While women living under the caliphate, including the al-Khans’aa Brigade in their recent manifesto, glorify life in the Islamic State on their social media accounts, reports directly contradict these descriptions. A November United Nations report detailed the many atrocities perpetrated by the Islamic State’s fighters. Furthermore, activist members of the group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently describe the al-Khans’aa Brigade females as a threat to their efforts to expose the Islamic State’s brutality.