London, Asharq Al-Awsat – The recent arrest of the Iraqi woman, Sajida Mubarak Atrous Al-Rishawi, whose explosive belt failed to detonate in the Amman bombings, has raised many questions about possible changes to Al-Qaeda”s tactics that have now turned to recruiting female suicide bombers. Sajida Atrous confessed to taking part in the bombings with her husband Ali Hussein Ali Al-Shamari, Rawad Jassem Mohamed Abed and Safaa Mohamed Ali. Many have argued that Al Qaeda has turned to recruiting female suicide bombers because they are less likely to be suspected than male suicide bombers whereas others claim that female suicide bombers would attract more media attention, the exact propaganda that Al Qaeda seeks.
An Egyptian fundamentalist leader asserted that the Amman bombings witnessed the first practice of female suicide bombers by Jihadist organizations. He added that based on such precedence, their participation in such attacks will continue to be the exception rather than the rule. He emphasized that the best contribution that a woman could pay to Jihad is to "abide by the instructions of the organization that she supports and dedicate her life to the duties of a wife and mother."
Nevertheless, other fundamentalists in London have told Asharq al Awsat that the phenomenon of women and Jihad is not a new one, as women have participated in the early wars of Islam. One individual mentioned the names of female martyrs and fighters such as Somaiya, the first martyr in Islam, Naseeba Bint Kaab who defended the Prophet during one of the battles, Khawla Bint Al Azwar who took part in the conquest of Greater Syria, and also Al-Khanssa, Al-Ramitha and so forth.
The Egyptian Hani Al-Sibai based in London, who heads the Maqrizi Center for Historical Studies told Asharq al-Awsat, "The Jihadist movements believe that both men and women are obliged to engage in Jihad, especially the defensive type that occurs in Palestine, Afghanistan, Kashmir and Iraq. Female members of other Jihadist groups have carried out other suicide operations in Chechnya, Iraq and Palestine. However, for Bin Laden”s organization, this has been the first attempted operation to be carried out by a woman. Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan mainly composed of men.
He added, "In Iraq, according to Islamic law, defensive Jihad is a religious obligation upon every Muslim living in that country, whether male or female. Women do not even need to seek permission from their husband, father or brother to participate in Jihad." He stated that Al-Zarqawi”s group would not deprive women of the rewards of martyrdom if they are able to fight."
However, other fundamentalists argue that caution concerning the conditions of female jihadists should be paid since women in the early Islamic period were always accompanied by their husbands in their battles. Some insist, "there should be a Mahram (Males who a female cannot marry, such as father, brother, or uncle etc) accompanying the female fighter since a noble cause cannot be fought for in violation of Islamic Law. The Iraqi Sajida Atrous who attempted a suicide operation in Amman, Jordan went in the company of her husband who arranged everything before heading for the Radisson hotel."
Websites affiliated and that sympathize with Al-Qaeda refer to the role of women in Chechnya”s jihad. The Chechen rebel leader Shamol Basayev always took pride in the "Black Widows" who engaged in suicide operations against the Russians after losing their husbands in battles. Their black gowns concealed explosive belts. The female bombers also play a significant role in the hostage taking operations of Beslan School and Moscow Theater. During the first four months of 2003, six out of seven suicide attacks were carried out by Chechen women. Approximately 27 women successfully carried out their suicide attacks against the Russians. The majority of these women had lost close relatives and spouses by the hand of the Russians, much like the Iraqi Sajida Atrous whose three brothers were killed by the Americans.
Independent sources believe that Al-Zarqawi had successfully provoked Sajida to take part in the attack with promises of heaven for all martyrs and by referring to early female martyrs of Islam. The sources further highlight the deaths of her brothers as a strong motive for revenge, which Islamists say is the main driving force behind female suicide operations. In January 2003, Wafa Idris, a 28-year-old Palestinian medical worker blew herself up at an Israeli checkpoint. Her mother later said that Wafa was provoked by the frequent scene of injured Palestinians carried in the ambulance vans."
Numan Ibn Uthman, a Libyan expert of Islamist affairs said that Al-Zarqawi sought to send a direct message to his supporters that women are also practicing Jihad. The Syrian Islamist and leader of Al-Muhajiroun, Sheikh Omar Bakri, who has not been allowed to return to his residence in Britain, told Asharq al-Awsat that Al-Zarqawi”s aim was to inform the Muslims and Arabs that if men are reluctant in carrying out suicide operations, then women would replace them. According to Bakri, Al-Zarqawi also wanted to stress that Jihad is a religious duty for every Muslim whether male or female. However, he stated that Al-Qaeda must "issue a statement confirming whether Sajida is part of the organization or not." He added, "This suspicious silence on Al-Qaeda”s part about this woman is unaccepted."