A report launched today reveals that women and minors (aged under 18) account for up to 25 percent of the foreign citizens who became affiliated with Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
This is a greater proportion than previously thought and likely to be a vast underestimation, given gaps that remain in the data.
New research undertaken by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), based within the Department of War Studies, Faculty of Social Science & Public Policy at King’s College London, reveals that women and minors (aged under 18) account for up to 25 percent of all recorded foreign IS-affiliates. However, the authors reveal that significant gaps in data remain, suggesting 25 percent is a vast underestimation.
“These findings are significant as considerations of foreign IS-affiliates in Syria and Iraq have largely focused on the status and activities of its male members,” said Dr. Shiraz Maher, director of the ICSR.
The ICSR’s report, From Daesh to ‘Diaspora’: Tracing the Women & Minors of Islamic State, has significant implications for policy and practice. Terrorist incidents across the globe have already revealed the threat posed by women and minors affiliated with and inspired by IS, with numerous foiled and successful attacks. In the future, the researchers recommend, women and minors must be recognized as distinct and complex groups in all efforts to respond to and counter violent extremist organizations.
“Women and minors are poised to play a significant role in carrying on the ideology and organization of IS now that the ‘caliphate’ has fallen, so it is essential that governments recognize these affiliates as two distinct groups who need their own unique responses,” said Maher.
The researchers from the ICSR who produced the dataset and analysis, Dr. Joana Cook and Ph.D. candidate Gina Vale, recorded 41,490 citizens from 80 countries as foreign affiliates to IS between 2013 and 2018. Of the total, 13 percent were women and 12 percent were minors. Seventy percent of the foreign IS affiliates from Eastern Asia were found to be women and minors while women and minors also accounted for almost half of those who travelled from Eastern and Western Europe. Overall, women were from very diverse backgrounds with diverse motivations. At least 730 minors were also recorded as born to foreign parents, 566 from Western Europe alone, though this is estimated to be much higher.
Along with the unique analysis of gender and age amongst IS foreign affiliates, the report is the first to map out in detail the diverse trajectories of IS foreign affiliates after the fall of the “caliphate” (the land held and administered by IS) at the end of 2017.
The analysis reveals that up to 20 percent of IS foreign affiliates, 7,366 people, have either returned to their home countries or are in the process of repatriation to do so. Four percent of these are recorded as women, whilst 17 percent of those returning (or in the process of returning) are recorded as minors. However, significant discrepancies in accounting for foreign citizens in Iraq and Syria means it is difficult to assess the true numbers in each group.