BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – Eighteen female al Qaeda fighters in northern Iraq turned themselves in to U.S. forces rather than conduct suicide bomb attacks on behalf of the militant group, the U.S. military said on Thursday.
A U.S. military statement said local clerics and relatives of the women had persuaded them to give themselves up on Wednesday and sign a pledge to reconcile with their communities. It did not say where in northern Iraq, exactly. This year has seen a sharp rise in the number of suicide bomb attacks by women, a favourite tactic of Sunni Islamist al Qaeda because they more easily evade detection by male police unwilling to search them for explosive vests.
At least two dozen female suicide bombers have struck this year, mostly in Iraq’s volatile Diyala province, north of Baghdad, killing scores of people. “The fact that so many potential women suicide bombers turned themselves in … shows remarkable solidarity as the people of Iraq continue to turn the tide against Al Qaeda and their barbaric methods,” said Major-General Mark P. Hertling, the commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq.
Many female bombers are motivated by a thirst for revenge for family members killed or captured by U.S. and Iraqi troops. Others come under pressure from male relatives to show allegiance to the Sunni Arab insurgent cause.
U.S. officials were not immediately able to comment on what would happen to the women next. A programme exits to pardon insurgents who give themselves in, if they are not wanted for major crimes, in exchange for information on insurgent groups.
In August, a teenage Iraqi girl who was strapped with explosives turned herself into Iraqi police rather than carry out a bombing against them in Diyala’s capital, Baquba.