We Can Do It: IS Video Shows Their Jihadi Women in Combat for the First Time Ever

Gilad Shiloach takes a look at a new video released by ISIS, which appears to depict women combatants in the organization's service.

An image released by the al-Hayat Foundation ostensibly depicting women as combatants in the service of ISIS.
An image released by the Al Hayat Foundation which ostensibly depicts women as combatants in the service of ISIS.

Al-Hayat Foundation, one of the main propaganda wings of the Islamic State (IS), recently released a video showing for the first time the IS's female members engaging in combat activity. The video comes a few months after the Jihadi group declared it permissible for women to fight alongside men on the battlefield and even called on women to take up arms and carry out terror attacks. It may be assumed that this unprecedented development does not reflect any ideological change within the group, but rather expresses a strategic weakness.

The 20-minutes long "historic" piece by IS, entitled "Inside the Caliphate 7," features a small group of women wearing black Burqas fighting alongside men on the front lines against the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Northern Syria. The video is part of the well-produced "Inside the Caliphate" series which has been discussed previously in Jihadiscope and which features foreign IS militants threatening attacks against the West, among others.

Showing these rare scenes from the Deir al-Zour area, the IS narrator says: "The chaste mujahid woman journeying to her lord with garments of purity and faith, seeking revenge for her religion and for the honor of her sisters imprisoned by the apostate Kurds." It is questionable, however, whether the characters who are seen running on the battlefield in Burqas alongside men and firing bullets with a rifle are in fact women, as none of them actually speak in the video.

Back in October 2017, the group's official weekly news bulletin, al-Naba, declared that women are not only permitted but obliged to "support the Mujahideen" in the war against the "disbelievers" by all means, including physical Jihad. The article, entitled "The duty of women in the jihad against the enemies," justifies the call by claiming that women had fought in the early centuries of Islam, citing such female companions of the Prophet Muhammed as Nusaybah bint Ka'ab, who attended the battle of Uhud.

Up until now, women rarely appeared in official propaganda publications by the group, and their role was characterized as submissive though essential to the future of the Caliphate, primarily by assisting their husbands and raising the next generations of Jihadis, the so-called "cubs of the caliphate.” This limitation of women's roles in the IS was in place, although other Jihadi organizations, such as al-Qa’ida and Boko Haram, have used female fighters before - including as suicide bombers. The number of women who “serve” in a combat role in the ranks of IS is still unclear, however recent reports in the west claim that approximately 800 foreign women from roughly 40 countries who joined the group with their children have been captured by Kurdish forces in Syria.

The IS's recent change of position regarding the role of women is happening while the group is shrinking in its territorial presence in Syria and Iraq with every day that passes and faces difficulties in carrying out significant terror attacks in the west. The move may reflect a real desire to attract new recruits, which may not necessarily result in the formation of mixed-gender fighting units as seen in the video, but perhaps in sending women to carry out sensitive terror attacks against the west. The IS’s decision to "unveil" its women fighters for the first time in an English-speaking video at this particular time – as opposed to three years ago, when the IS seemed unstoppable and all powerful –  may imply that this is the publication's primary goal.