The Islamic State’s bid to impose Dark Ages law on the women within its so-called caliphate depends on a merciless cadre of young women who roam the streets of Raqqa, terrorizing females who fall short of the standard of strict Shariah.
Known as the Al-Khansa brigade, the group consists of about 60 armed women between the ages of 18 and 24 who patrol the Islamic State’s Syrian stronghold. Their job, which they are said to perform with cruel relish, is to arrest and beat women who commit such transgressions as allowing ankles or wrists to show or being seen without a male chaperone.
“This is a case of the morality police enforcing their strict version of Islam on other woman,” said Dan O’Shea, of GROM Technologies, a Florida-based international security firm specializing in recovering kidnap victims. “This is all part of ISIS’ social media campaign and (the brand) they are trying to sell.”
The women are lured in with a monthly salary of a couple hundred dollars, as well as receive food, shelter, basic firearms training and of course – a promise of spiritual rewards, O’Shea said.
Formed around February, the small militia is named after 7th century female Arab poet Al-Khansa, a contemporary of the Prophet Mohammed. More recently, the brigade has expanded its role into overseeing brothels where thousands of kidnapped Yazidi women are forced to service Islamic State jihadists, as well as assisting at military checkpoints. Their role at the posts is to catch infiltrators disguised in female clothing, because men are forbidden from searching women.
Abu Ahmad, a Raqqa-based Islamic State official, told Syrian conflict news website Syria Deeply that the brigade was established to “raise awareness of our religion among women and punish women who do not abide by the law,” insisting that “Jihad is not a man-only duty.”
Kamal Nawash, founder of the Free Muslims Coalition, which seeks to promote a modern, secular interpretation of Islam and denounces all terrorist groups and leaders, said women may soon take on a more aggressive role in the promotion of Islamic State.
“There is a history of Muslim women taking up arms, or even leading armies, since the 7th century,” Nawash said. “In light of the increasing number of women fighting ISIS, such as Kurdish women, ISIS will most likely have their female supporters fight. The use of women will increase as the number of men increases.”
But according to Tim Furnish, an Atlanta-based, independent analyst of the Islamic World who has been a Pentagon consultant, there is still some confusion as to whether women are technically permitted to engage in jihad fighting. He said it is possible the women are policing other females because they are proscribed from fighting on the frontlines.
“[The brigade] is more likely just giving women something to do aside from having babies,” he said.
Journalist, author and filmmaker Robert Young Pelton, whose work has taken him to war zones around the globe, including Syria, said the women of the Al-Khansa brigade also provide support in fundraising, smuggling weapons and intelligence gathering. But he said they are not treated well, and not considered integral to the movement.
“Women are more likely to be in refugee camps than at the front lines and are not part of any Islamic insurgency,” Pelton added. “They are mostly the victims of fundamentalists both physically and culturally.”
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