'Mother' of Iraqi Female Homicide Bomber Ring Arrested

A woman accused of helping recruit dozens of female homicide bombers looked into the camera and described the process: trolling society for likely candidates and then patiently converting the women from troubled souls into deadly attackers.

The accounts, in a video released Tuesday by Iraq police, offer a rare glimpse into the networks used to find and train the women bombers who have become one of the insurgents' most effective weapons as they struggle under increasing crackdowns.

In the separate prison interview with The Associated Press — with interrogators nearby — the woman said she helped plan the rapes of young women and then step in to persuade the victims to become homicide bombers as their only escape from the shame.

The AP was allowed access on condition the information would not be released until the formal announcement of the arrest.

The U.S. and Iraqi militaries have made past claims about efforts by insurgents to recruit vulnerable women and children as attackers while providing little evidence, including statements that two women who blew themselves up last year in Baghdad had Down's Syndrome that later proved to be exaggerated.

It also was not possible to independently verify the claims of using rape as a tool to recruit women bombers in the volatile Diyala province northeast of Baghdad.

But the suspect, 50-year-old Samira Ahmed Jassim — who said her codename was "The Mother of Believers" — has given unusual firsthand descriptions of the possible workings behind last year's spike in attacks by women bombers.

Iraqi military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, said the suspect had recruited more than 80 women willing to carry out attacks and had admitted masterminding 28 bombings in different areas.

Female homicide bombers attempted or successfully carried out 32 attacks last year, compared with eight in 2007, according to U.S. military figures.

In the most recent attack, a woman detonated an explosive under her robes that killed at least 36 people last month during a Shiite religious gathering.

The attacks reflected a shift in insurgent tactics: trying to exploit cultural standards that restrict male security forces from searching women and use the traditional flowing robes of women to hide bomb-rigged belts or vests.

In response, Iraqi security forces have tried to recruit more women. In last week's provincial elections, women teachers and civic workers were pulled into duty to search voters.

Al-Moussawi, the military spokesman, alleged Jassim was in contact with top leaders of Ansar al-Sunnah in Diyala, the last foothold of major Sunni insurgent strength near Baghdad. The group is one of the factions with suspected ties to Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Al-Moussawi said Jassim "confessed to recruiting 28 female homicide bombers who carried out terrorist operations in different areas." He gave no other details on the location or dates of the attacks. He gave no further details, however, on the locations or the dates of the attacks.

In the video played for reporters, Jassim described how she was approached by insurgents to urge women to carry out homicide attacks. She said her first assignment was Umm Hoda, a nickname meaning mother of Hoda.

"I talked to her a number of times," said Jassim, who has four daughters and two sons. "I went back to them and gave them the details on her. And they told me, bring her to us ... And I took her to the police station, and that's where she blew herself up.

Another woman, whom she called Amal, was involved in long conversations, Jassim said.

"I talked to her many times, sat with her, and she was very depressed," she said on the video. "I took her to them, and then went back for her and she blew herself up."

Jassim gave no further information on the attacks or her role in the video.

In speaking with the AP — a week after her Jan. 21 arrest — Jassim repeated her statements to interrogators that insurgents organized rapes of women and she would then try to coax the victims to become homicide bombers.

In many parts of Iraq, including conservative Diyala, a rape victim may be shunned by her family and become an outcast in society.

Police interrogators were not the room during Jassim's interview with the AP, but they were in an adjoining chamber.

Jassim did not offer additional details on her alleged role in the attacks, but suggested she was pressured into working with the insurgency.

She claimed that Ansar al-Sunnah provided her a house in Diyala, where she operated a shop selling the flowing traditional robes for women called abayas. She did claim, however, that Ansar al-Sunnah once threatened to bomb her house if she did not cooperate.

"I worked with (Ansar al-Sunnah) for a year and a half," she told the AP.

Women homicide bombers are uncommon, but not unknown, outside Iraq.

Among Palestinians, several woman have waged homicide bombings for militant groups including Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

There also have been cases of women in the West Bank attacking Israeli soldiers to possibly seek imprisonment after being accused of breaking traditional rules on sexual conduct. Relatives can seek harsh punishments, including death, for women seen as dishonoring the family.