Dressed To Kill: Why the Number of Female Suicide Bombers is Rising in Iraq



by Farhana Ali

July 30, 2008

Muslim female suicide bombers are on the rise. Even before women attackers claimed dozens of lives in Monday's coordinated attacks on Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad and political protesters in Kirkuk, women had carried out more than 20 missions in Iraq this year—the most violent one yet for the women of Al Qaeda. But for those of us who have studied the phenomenon, the assaults should not come as a surprise.

For almost 10 years, we have warned that women would start playing a more aggressive role in groups like Al Qaeda. As more men are captured or killed by security forces worldwide, it was inevitable that terror groups would consider other options to keep their cause alive. Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, the Al Qaeda in Iraq leader notorious for his videotaped beheading of a foreign captive, may have been one of the first to recruit women, but his death in 2006 hardly brought the drive to an end. From 2003 to 2006, the rate of female suicide bombers in Iraq was relatively low—five attacks in three years. But in 2007, the increase was exponential. And by the end of this year, there will likely be 50 or more attacks conducted by women mujahidaat in Iraq.

Farhana Ali has studied women in Al Qaeda for nearly a decade. She is associate international policy analyst at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decision-making through research and analysis.

This is an excerpt of an op-ed that appeared in Newsweek and can be found at https://www.newsweek.com/commentary-why-women-become-suicide-bombers-93075.

This commentary originally appeared in Newsweek on July 30, 2008. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.