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- Mia Bloom, “Mother, Daughter, Sister, Bomber,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (November/December 2005).
“The terrorists know there are sensitivities about making intimate body searches of women, particularly Muslim women, and thus you can see why some groups might be planning to use a female bomber. Hiding explosives in an intimate part of the body means even less chance of detection.”
Black Widows: The Chechen Female Suicide Terrorists, Anne Speckhard and Khapta Akhmedova.
Chechnya’s notorious “Black Widows” have been active since June 7, 2000 when the first Chechen female suicide bombers, Khava Barayeva, cousin of well-known Chechen field commander Arbi Barayev, and Luisa Magomadova drove a truck filled with explosives into the temporary headquarters of an elite OMON (Russian Special Forces) detachment in the village of Alkhan Yurt in Chechnya
A more widespread assumption in the literature on female terrorism seems to be that most women who become involved with terrorist organizations do so for personal reasons. One example of this would be a woman’s relationship with a man within the organization although, more often, female terrorists seem to be motivated to avenge some personal tragedy, such as having been raped, or the death of a family member
Factors that motivate women to become suicide bombers
Radicalization is largely a gender-neutral process and is usually in response to some combination of economic, political, and social factors, including economic conditions, lack of political rights, or military occupation. Added stressors and psychological factors can transform a radical into a terrorist and, in the most serious cases, into a suicide terrorist.
For women, the impetuses that drive the motivation to carry out a suicide attack are often unique to the experience of females in conflict scenarios. One unique impetus is the loss of feminine honor and the desire to redeem it.
Both Dr. Anat Berko of the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism and Lindsey O’Rourke from the University of Chicago note that the idea of the female body as a symbol of honor is a longstanding notion in many communities, particularly as it relates to a woman’s perceived sexual purity. While this concept has lost salience in most areas of the world, there are some places—particularly in more conservative Middle Eastern and South Asian communities—that continue to take sexual purity very seriously.
If a woman’s honor is compromised through a violation of this purity, such as sex out of wedlock or being a rape victim, the shame is not only placed on her but also extended to her family. Suicide terrorism, frequently viewed by radicals as a form of martyrdom, is seen as a way to gain redemption and restore that honor.