Terrorism’s ‘Virtual Sisters’
Many terrorist organizations, including Hamas, are using their children’s websites in order to recruit girls for terrorist activities. This is part of an increasing trend adopted by terrorist organizations and fundamentalist Islamic groups that are using the Internet with a focus on targeting women. This has been shown in a new study by Prof. Gabriel Weimann, a University of Haifa expert on terrorism on the Internet. “Terrorist organizations’ use of female suicide terrorists is on the rise, and it is directly reflected in the constant upsurge in websites dedicated to female terrorists,” maintains Prof. Weimann.
For over more than a decade Prof. Weimann has monitored and analyzed Internet sites of all the active terrorist organizations. Just as marketing experts have understood that in order to reach target audiences they must create appropriate content for those audiences, Prof. Weimann observes, so have terrorist groups realized that in order to recruit women for their purposes, they must “narrowcast”, i.e., approach them with specific messages and not make do with general websites that primarily target a male audience.
This trend began in 2004, when Al-Qaida’s online magazine published an edition intended for women. Following the special women’s edition, the organization launched an online magazine intended for women only, providing content that guides its readers in administering first aid for family members injured in combat, in raising children that will join the Jihad war and in training to fight.
Prof. Weimann says that other topics on such websites and forums intended for women only include advice on how to refrain from keeping a husband and children from becoming martyrs (shahid); and encouragement to take an active role in terrorist activities, including martyrdom operations. Such encouragement is given through stories of heroic female suicide terrorists, publishing Islamic laws sanctioning such acts and operative guidance in using different types of weapons.
Over the past few years the call upon women to join the circle of suicide terrorists, sometimes from a very young age, has been on a sharp rise. The Hamas children’s website published a story called “A Palestinian Girl’s Heroism”, describing how a young girl calmly plans and carries out a suicide terrorist attack. The story ends with the girl lying on the grass with a smile on her face, since she has died a martyr, a shahid, for her people. A video clip published on Hamas websites portrays a young girl following her mother’s suicide attack and how she plans to follow in her mother’s footsteps when she grows up.
“Terrorists are fine-tuning their appeals, sharpening their messages according to narrowly-defined sub-populations. The unmistakable growth in the participation of women in suicide attacks and terrorist activities with the evident growth in persuasive online messages targeting women – may provide alarming signals of the narrowcasting tactic’s success,” Prof. Weimann concluded.
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