Manama: When a spate of terrorist attacks targeting Saudi Arabia in recent years began authorities turned their attention to the scourge of extremism that had been infiltrating society.
While they focused on nabbing terrorists, no one thought to investigate women—the idea of a woman terrorist was nearly impossible to fathom.
In their uniquely conservative culture, women were almost invariably perceived as docile, caring and shunning violence.
However, researcher Mirvet Abdul Hamid conducted a study in 2015 disproving this idea.
She sounded the alarm and warned that recruitment of women into terror groups was among their major strategies.
If authorities failed to take this into account and confront this, society would be in trouble, she warned.
For terror groups, the special status of women in Saudi society gave them a unique opportunity to exploit them.
As women typically wore black veils over their faces, no one would be able to approach them to verify their identity.
Additionally, their loose-fitting black abayas were perfect for hiding explosive belts and small weapons without being discovered.
In their quest to understand why women are susceptible to terrorist recruitment, sociologists came up with various explanations.
Social media was found to be the main driving factor of how women get pulled into such groups as women tended to believe the hollow promises of living more self-fulfilling lives.
A survey conducted by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs discovered that 53.26 per cent women’s involvement with terrorist groups was societal, 32.4 per cent was ideological and 16.33 per cent was emotional.
Daesh used methods that were different from those used by Al Qaida, the study said, explaining the figures.
Daesh allowed women to have more executive roles, which lured women and young girls who saw in the approach a statement of women’s liberation from the ultraconservative societies, the study said.
Many women terrorists saw the approach as an opportunity to assert themselves by helping others, actively shape history and achieve self-fulfillment.
Thus, women’s brigades led by women were set up within Daesh.
Saudi journalist Mohammad Fahad Al Harthi said that terrorists exploited societal gaps linked to the conservative nature of the Saudi society and the lack of a proper education system.
Siham Al Tuwairi, a columnist, said that most of the Saudi women implicated in terrorism were aged between 30 and 40, unlike the Western women who were much younger.
Many of the Saudi women also lacked the necessary emotional support at home and saw terrorism as an alternative for self-fulfillment, she added, calling for more sensible and more sensitive attitudes within the Saudi society.
In her study recommendations, Abdul Hamid stressed “the need for increased security monitoring of women who exhibit forms of extremism and the tendency to suppor extremist groups, be they in official government sectors or in civil society organisations or voluntary work.”
“This will help prevent them from inciting terrorism or taking financial donations illegally or facilitating any logistical support for extremist organizations,” she said.
Prominent women terrorists:
Khulood Al Rukaibi, a Saudi woman, had given her son an explosive belt in 2016. Authorities were able to foil the suicide attack.
According to Al Arabiya, Khulood, known by Daesh as “Om Mohammad”, was in her late 40s with an elementary level education.
Her husband reportedly failed to be the “Man of the House”, but the couple had six children – four boys and two girls.
One of the sons was fighting in Syria.
But for the mother, that was not enough. She contributed to the recruitment of two of her sons– Hamad and Nassar – and her brother Nasser to carry out attacks in Saudi Arabia and target citizens, religious scholars, security forces and military, security and economic facilities in different areas in Saudi Arabia as well as religious sites in Al Ahsa and security headquarters.
Khulood was the brain and the power behind the Daesh cell planning to carry out attacks and provided logistical and material support.
Her role sounded the alarm that the role of women within terror groups was no longer confined to simple tasks, but now included leading responsibilities and military action.
She was the only woman in the 17-member cell that also included 13 Saudis, an Egyptian, a Yemeni and a Palestinian.
Om Owais, was the first Saudi women who was put on trial for joining Daesh.
She was 27, well-educated and working on her master’s degree. She became fascinated with social media, particularly microblogs.
She set up several accounts under various names and used them to promote the Daesh ideology and to call for demonstrations and action against the state.
She was not alone, and dozens of other women were also using social media for their pro-Daesh propaganda. When they were discovered by the security agencies, 46 of them are believed to have fled to Syria where they joined the terror group. Some of them took their children with them, investing in them as future fighters.
Om Awais who pledged allegiance to Al Baghdadi printed pro-Daesh pamphlets and plastered them on the walls of mosques and other public places in Qassim in a bid to win new supporters.
She even used her video and photography skills to produce clips and posters to call for the release of prisoners held in security-related cases.
Her activism pushed her to support publicly the 2015 terrorist attack on the premises of an intelligence agency in southern Saudi Arabia in which four men were killed.
Throughout her action, she kept in touch with other women with the same ideas and tendencies. Theirs was a small community of women dedicated to serving the terror group, supporting and motivating one another, driven by a desire to be recognized as successful in serving their cause, even if it meant devastation, destruction and deaths.
She was sentenced to six years in jail.
Abeer Al Harbi, a Saudi woman, concealed an explosive belt under her feet as her husband Fahad Al Harbi drove more than 1,000km from Riyadh to Aseer province in southwestern Saudi Arabia.
The belt was used on August 6, 2015 in an attack on a mosque inside the Special Forces headquarters in Abha during the duhr (noon) prayers, killing 15 worshippers - five soldiers, six military trainees and four Bangladeshi workers – and injuring 33.
Lady Gioi Aban Bali Nang, a Filipina, was arrested in Saudi Arabia on suspicion of helping a Syrian man make explosive belts for suicide attacks in the kingdom in 2015.
She was reported to have gone missing from her employer 15 months earlier.