The second class of the all-female Syriac Christians Brigade proudly took its place earlier this month on the front lines in the fight against ISIS, whose own increasing use of women as suicide bombers offers a sharp contrast between the two sides’ visions.
Known as the “Female Protection Forces of the Land Between the Two Rivers” – in reference to the stretch of traditionally Syriac-inhabited land between the Tigris and Euphrates, the all-volunteer unit consists of Syrian mothers, wives and professionals who pray in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus.
"I'm a practicing Christian, and thinking about my children makes me stronger and more determined in my fight against Daesh (ISIS)," one fighter named Babylonia, who graduated with the first class in December, told AFP. She said her husband, also a soldier in the same war, encouraged her to leave their children behind to fight for their future – and "against the idea that the Syriac woman is good for nothing except housekeeping and make-up.”
The women, the first of whom graduated from a training camp in Al-Qahtaniyeh in August, are primarily focused on protecting Christian areas. Patterned after the highly successful female Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the unit has already seen battle, most recently in the fight to retake the northeastern town of Al-Hol after two years of ISIS rule.
“ISIS will recruit from any social strata, and using female terrorists in general and suicide bombers in particular are only going to increase.”
- Shaul Gabbay, Global Research Institute
But while these women are fighting to protect their families and homeland, their female counterparts fighting for ISIS have a much different role in advancing the terrorist group’s bleak and barbarous cause in the war that has engulfed much of Iraq and Syria.
Sources from Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, an undercover group of activists based inside ISIS’ Syrian stronghold, told FoxNews.com that the terrorists recently formed an all-female volunteer suicide bombing squad. Wives of ISIS jihadists recruit the city’s females to the grim duty with tales of the “paradise” that awaits them for giving their lives to defend the caliphate. Recruiters ensure their prey that their families will be taken care of after death – with a significant sum of money handed over before the mission date to seal the deal.
“The females go through proper training at a camp with weapons and learn how to do a proper suicide bombing,” a member of Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently told FoxNews.com. “These are women who choose to do this, women of all ages. Even teenagers.”
Before being pressed into the task of recruiting for and carrying out suicide attacks, the women of ISIS were typically deployed as the “Shariah police,” known as the Al-Khansa Brigade. The brigade was comprised exclusively of armed women who patrolled the streets of Raqqa and other towns and villages occupied by ISIS, terrorizing and punishing other females for sharia violations as minor as wearing a niqab that fits too closely, therefore showing the outline of a woman's body.
Whether based on need or a twisted take on progressivism, ISIS is working hard to emphasize that its cause transcends social status and gender barriers, said Prof. Shaul Gabbay, executive director of the Denver-based Global Research Institute.
“The idea that ‘everyone is part of our mission’ is also part of the terrorizing, that the enemy can be attacked from anywhere at any time by anyone,” he said. “ISIS will recruit from any social strata, and using female terrorists in general and suicide bombers in particular is only going to increase.”
While women fighting for freedom in Iraq and Syria is relatively new, ISIS is following a terrorism tradition in tapping females to kill and be killed for radical Islam. The concept of Islamic female jihadists, stabbers, bombers and “burka brigades” – while undergoing something of resurgence – is not new.
“The phenomenon of female jihadists has been growing for many years now,” said Kamran Bokhari, senior analyst at Geopolitical Futures and author of “Political Islam in the Age of Democratization.” “Females go through the same technical tradecraft with respect to guns and explosives, and the ideological training is very similar in that they are promised heaven should they carry out their mission.”
Female jihadists have taken up arms all over the globe, including Israel, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Kenya, Chechnya and even the U.S., in last month’s deadly attack in San Bernardino, Calif.. But in Iraq and Syria, the so-called “burka brigades” are meeting their match in Christian and Kurdish women who fight for hope and for their homeland.
"I was afraid of the noise of cannons firing, but the fear quickly went away,” an 18-year-old member of Female Protection Forces of the Land Between the Two Rivers told AFP. “I would love to be on the front line in the fight against the terrorists."
Hollie McKay has been a FoxNews.com staff reporter since 2007. She has reported extensively from the Middle East on the rise and fall of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq. Follow her on twitter at @holliesmckay