THE WOMEN OF THE ISLAMIC STATE
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Current counterterrorism approaches primarily target male militants with little regard for women in terrorism. However, today women are major contributors to the growth of extremist groups, most notably the Islamic State. The women of ISIS took on more leadership roles and influential positions than any other Islamic extremist group. Besides taking on the typical roles expected, such as wives and bearing children, they also took control of most of the group’s recruitment strategies. This study focuses on the active role women play as recruiters in growing and strengthening the influence and spread of extremist ideologies. It aims to explore the active role of women within extremist organizations, focusing on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and provides recommendations on how the United States can counter this growing trend. The study explores why a growing number of women willingly joined ISIS and took part in the planning and organization of the group. Since there is no clear data on the exact number of women who act as recruiters or how many people they were able to recruit in comparison to their male counterparts, this study will compare ISIS’ recruitment and the role women played within the organization to those of two other known terrorist groups, Al Qaeda and Al Shabaab. It has become clear that ISIS’ use of women in active roles greatly impacted its ability to grow so quickly. Being one of the first Islamic extremist organizations to use women in active roles, that is not as suicide bombers; ISIS recruited thousands of individuals from all around the world in a short period. The United States, along with its allies in the region, has made significant progress towards defeating the physical territories of extremist groups, primarily that of the Islamic State. The loss of territory due to military operations has significantly weakened the group. However, ISIS posed a significant and growing cyber threat. Their ability to effectively utilize social media for recruitment indicates that their cyber threat remains, despite the reduction in their physical threat.