Palestinian Women Take Up Call To Become Suicide Bombers

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - For the first time during the 10-month old uprising, Palestinian women are answering the call to become suicide bombers, after a religious edict was issued in Saudi Arabia, making the task of Israeli security forces more difficult.

Nevertheless, the profile of suicide bombers and terrorists - who are usually men - has been shifting during the last week due in part to pressure on the organizations from the loss of their leaders through Israeli targeting operations, counter-terrorism expert Ely Karmon said on Monday.

Israel renewed its highly controversial policy of targeting Palestinian militants it believes are planning terror attacks during the last several weeks, killing top Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists and forcing the organizations to recruit women and use poorly trained operatives to carry out their attacks.

"I think it is quite possible that there will be a change in the terrorist operations," said Karmon, senior research scholar at the International Policy Institute on Counter-terrorism, near Tel Aviv.

"The last cases show that [the organizations] have problems with very well trained people," he said.

Many of those that were specialists have been neutralized or killed and so the organizations are trying to find an alternative - people who are not known and cannot be identified as a potential threat, he said.

On Sunday, a 30-year old father of three drove into the heart of Tel Aviv and shot at soldiers and civilians with an M-16 rifle as he drove past Israel's Defense Ministry.

The attack, in front of the Israeli equivalent of the Pentagon, left eight soldiers, an Israeli student and a Romanian worker wounded. The attacker was shot by a policeman and later died of his wounds.

Although Ali Julani was known locally as a Fatah member, he had no police record and had worked in Israel for years. It is still not clear if he was sent by his superiors or acted on his own.

Nevertheless, Karmon noted, had Julani been a professional he would likely have killed the ten instead of just wounding them.

In a separate attack last week, a young teenager tried to board a crowded inter city bus with a large black bag full of explosives, intending to blow himself and the bus up. An alert bus driver prevented him from doing so.

Neither fit the "typical" profile of a suicide attacker, who is generally an unmarried man from 18 to 27 years old, many of whom are university students or graduates.

Women in the Ranks

Women, who now seem set to enter the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, have been used in the past to perpetrate suicide attacks in southern Lebanon, Turkey and Sri Lanka but the groups with which they were affiliated were leftist or Marxist in nature, said Karmon.

What is new now is that Islamic religious groups are opening their ranks to women, he added. Such groups are usually against the "emancipation" of women, but now they want to show that even the women are willing to fight.

"It's a sign they've passed some threshold internally," Karmon said.

Islamic religious leaders issued a fatwa or religious decree in Saudi Arabia last week calling on women to join the fight against Israel after eight Palestinians, including two top Hamas activists were killed in an Israeli missile strike in Nablus. Two children were also killed in the attack.

Since then, scores of Palestinian women are now volunteering to become human bombs, according to a report in the Sunday Times of London.

On Friday, Ayman Razawi a 23-year-old mother of two tried to plant an 11-pound bomb, packed with nails and screws and hidden in a detergent box at the Tel Aviv bus station. A security guard thwarted her attempt, but her action heralded the beginning of this new trend, The Times said.

One Islamic leader Sheikh Abdullah Nimr Darwish, who lives on the edge of the West Bank, was quoted as saying that the women would now fight since Israel had "issued a death warrant against the Palestinians." They "prefer to be killed at the front rather than wait and be killed at home," he said.

Darwish, the paper said, spoke with pride about seeing Palestinian women wearing white shrouds at funerals, an indication that they were ready to become a martyr.

Quoting security sources, The Times said that many women will likely follow Razawi's example, leaving the security services "with an almost impossible task as they try to prevent atrocities."

Even though they will be harder to spot, Karmon said, they act in a less professional manner, which can make them less effective.