'Bombshell' explodes myths of female terrorist motivation

February 21, 2011

Often portrayed as pawns of male-dominated terrorist organizations, female terrorists are actually motivated by more complicated and diverse reasons, according to a Penn State researcher.

"It's true that some women are coerced, but the truth is that motivations vary from terrorist group to terrorist group," said Mia Bloom, fellow, International Center for the Study of Terrorism. "For example, of the women in the provincial Irish Republican Army group that I talked to, not one was coerced; they were enthusiastic about their roles."

Bloom, who examined female participation in the world's most recognized terrorist groups in her book, "Bombshell: The Many Faces of Female Terrorists" (Viking Canada 2011), said there are five main reasons why females resort to acts of terrorism and -- revenge, redemption, relationship, respect and rape.

"Relationship, the third R, is particularly crucial in understanding how women are mobilized," Bloom writes. "The best single predictor that a woman will engage in terrorist violence is her relationship with a known insurgent or jihadi."

According to Bloom, leaders of terrorist groups encourage female participation in their organizations for several reasons. Women are more effective at attracting media attention. They are also held up as an example to goad males into joining with or increasing their participation in terrorist movements.

"Groups have found it very effective to use women as propaganda tools, especially to appeal to men," Bloom said. "The message is if you don't step up, you're not a man."

Bloom also said the level of participation in a terrorist group changes from culture to culture and from group to group. In some terrorist organizations, women assume leadership positions and take part in all aspects of operations. For example, Ah-lam al-Tamimi, a member of Hamas, planned one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in the history of Israel.

"Some terrorist groups go as far as addressing the roles for females in their founding documents," said Bloom.

For other groups, women are relegated to the lowest status of the organization and used as canon fodder and, because of their ability to avoid suspicion in civilian areas, as suicide bombers on city streets.

"The truly deplorable thing about female suicide bombing is that in many cases women are usually selected to attack civilian targets, or 'soft targets,' " said Bloom. "So women are being used to kill other women and children."

Bloom recommends blunting the lure of terrorism for females by exposing the true nature of the groups in a process she refers to as "deglamorizing, demobilizing and delegitimizing terrorism."

"This part of the book has to do with the work we do here at the center," said Bloom. "We look for ways to get people to leave terrorism."

She began writing the book about three years ago after writing a chapter on female suicide bombers in her previous book, "Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror." As she further researched female terrorists, Bloom realized that her source's conclusion that most female terrorists were coerced was simplistic.

"I actually wrote the book as a corrective," Bloom said. "I started to realize that I mischaracterized as merely pawns in these organizations."

The University of Pennsylvania Press plans to publish the book in the U.S. in fall, 2011.

Explore further: STOP terrorism software

Related Stories

STOP terrorism software

February 25, 2008

Researchers at the University of Maryland’s Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS) have developed the SOMA Terror Organization Portal (STOP) allowing analysts to query automatically learned rules on terrorist ...

Research Reveals Patterns of Terrorist Preparation

July 17, 2008

Analysis of an extensive terrorism database housed at the University of Arkansas has revealed patterns in activities of terrorists preparing for an attack, information that can be invaluable for law enforcement agencies seeking ...

Report: Discovery networks hostage-taking a rare terror event

September 2, 2010

A new report by terrorism researchers at the University of Maryland concludes that the deadly hostage-taking incident at the Discovery Communications headquarters in suburban Washington, D.C. meets the criteria of a terrorist ...

Recommended for you

Biologists trace how human innovation impacts tool evolution

November 24, 2015

Many animals exhibit learned behaviors, but humans are unique in their capacity to build on existing knowledge to make new innovations. Understanding the patterns of how new generations of tools emerged in prehistoric societies, ...

First Londoners were multi-ethnic mix: museum

November 23, 2015

A DNA analysis of four ancient Roman skeletons found in London shows the first inhabitants of the city were a multi-ethnic mix similar to contemporary Londoners, the Museum of London said on Monday.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1.3 / 5 (3) Feb 21, 2011

Male terrorists are motivated by sexual perversion and the promise of 70 virgins.

Female terrorists, on the other hand, are just plain evil...
5 / 5 (2) Feb 21, 2011

Male terrorists are motivated by sexual perversion and the promise of 70 virgins.

Female terrorists, on the other hand, are just plain evil...

The IRA was overwhelmingly Catholic - I am not familiar with any church doctrine that involves any number of virgins ..... nor was the Oklahoma bombing bunch: in Canada the FLQ never mentioned 70 or more virgins - and the Basques are silent there too.

Why do you pick out an obscure passage that is never used for any motivation to dismiss an important phenomena - it certainly leads to no solution.
not rated yet Feb 21, 2011
Sounds like good research.

From reading the article it sounds like the gender aspect has been redefined as the effects of several non-gender specific phenomena. Then the prevalence of these phenomena are co-related to the female gender. As such, it promises to be more an analysis of terrorist motivation with the female aspect being a case study of the general principles investigated.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.