French Women Jihadists More Radicalized Than Men And Still A Threat, Justice Ministry Study Finds

By Fayçal Benhassain | May 10, 2018 | 1:12 AM EDT

Female jihadists in Syria. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Paris ( – Female jihadists in France are often more radicalized than their male counterparts and more than half of them have played an active role in the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL), according to an internal report by the country’s Ministry of Justice.

The report was published in part by the daily newspaper Le Monde, which reported that ISIS, while struggling, is still calling women to join its ranks.

Although many French women jihadists were forced by their husbands to join ISIS, the ministry found in interviewing them on their return to France that most expressed support for the group and its project.

The ministry found that one-third of the French women who joined ISIS’ so-called caliphate had left France with their families.

Their role once with the terrorist group went far beyond domestic duties, and included giving birth to children with the aim of being schooled in jihadist thinking and becoming recruits for the cause.

The study pointed out that even though Islamic ideology says women should not fight, some of those who joined ISIS were given important and operational role in the movement’s police force.

It reportedly described these police women as carrying out punishments on offenders, like their male counterparts. Women were also involved in indoctrination, using the Internet to lure radical men and women in France to travel to Syria to join ISIS.

During the interviews, led by police, anti-terrorist experts and judges, most of the female recruits expressed a strong attachment to ISIS. The study also showed that women who were attracted to ISIS but were arrested beforehand or prevented for other reasons from traveling to join it, were still able to work for the group in France or in Europe.

The women demonstrated a strong ideological adherence to the jihadist cause and saw joining ISIS as a way to live out their faith.

“Women described their involvement as being a result of their aversion for the West, and of a feeling of victimization and attraction for the caliphate [which] they see as a way of living their faith free from Western oppression,” Le Monde reported.

The Justice Department based its findings on the views of French women who came back from ISIS-controlled parts of Syria, three years after producing a similar work on male jihadists.

The study underlined the need for the French judicial system to pay particular attention to Muhajirat (a term used by French intelligence for women who have embraced the jihadist cause), who are now systematically arrested on their return to France.

According to Edith Bouvier and Céline Martelet, two journalists who published a book in March exploring the backgrounds and motivations of French women who joined ISIS, investigators did not regard women as a serious threat until September 2016.

That month, police arrested a group of women on suspicion of trying to blow up a car near the Notre Dame Cathedral in the heart of Paris – the first time female jihadists were known to have been preparing an attack in France.

“In 2013, at the time of the birth of the terrorist organization called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the police and the intelligence services were not interested in the actions of women,” they wrote.

At the time, authorities saw it as a waste of time and resources to watch women jihadists as they were not seen as playing a role beyond domestic chores and childrearing.

In January this year, the judicial services counted 298 French women who joined ISIS in Iraq and Syria, representing nearly half of the 676 adults in the region who were being monitored closely by secret services of various countries, including France.

Those figures did not take into account the many deaths that occurred in recent months, as the terrorist group lost key territory in the two countries.

The Justice Department said that of 72 women jihadists who returned to France, six have already been tried and 26 have been indicted.

The six women were charged with having taken part to terror acts and having traveled to join ISIS. They were sentenced to between three and five years in jail.

The study warned that when the women are released after serving sentences, their return to society will constitute an ongoing threat.

Police and intelligence personal as well as judges are now using electronic devices to monitor women who came back from the Middle East or those considered potentially dangerous because of their support for ISIS.

Apart from women who traveled to the Middle East to join ISIS, another 22 French women were arrested over the past four years in connection with plots to carry out a dozen terrorist attacks on French soil.

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