The series of deadly suicide bombings in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city, has been stealing national and international attention. The attacks that were conducted by families included mother Puji Kuswati, and children have raised greater concerns in Indonesia about the issue of women and children involvement in the terrorist movement. Previously, in the case of Dian Yulia Novi, who was arrested in 2016 due to her plan to carry out suicide bomb attack in Jakarta, Indonesian public has been made aware on the issue of the female suicide bomber. Historically, terrorist activities were dominated by masculine faces; however, the recent trend in terrorism uses women as the actor and creates feminine faces of terrorism.
Shifting Role of Women in Terrorist Movement
Since the period of the first caliph in the seventh century, targeting women and children during warfare was forbidden by the traditional codes of conduct as part of Islamic culture. However, nowadays, this view of women has been changed by radical Islamists. Across the Muslim world, women, whether non-Muslim or Muslim, have been targeted by the radical Islamists. For instance, non-Muslim women in Iraq and Syria have been murdered by ISIS, at the same time, Muslim women have been suffered by ISIS. This state of affairs can be seen as a change of view on women in which radical Islamists like ISIS is no longer follow the view of avoiding attacks on women.
In contrast to its predecessor Al Qaida, ISIS also has different standpoint regarding the position of women in waging jihad. In Al Qaida perspective, women were barred from participating in the tactical team or in the battlefield. On the contrary, ISIS has allowed women to get involved in offensive and defensive combat operations. In this sense, ISIS claims that women are also as important as men to wage jihad. As a realisation to this claim, ISIS formed Al Khansaa Brigade in 2014 that consists of female ISIS members which operate in Raqqa and Mosul. Al Khansaa Brigade plays a significant role in presenting local security and serving as a model for ISIS female fighters in many countries, including Indonesia.
Radical Islamic movements have begun to encouraged women to see radicalism and violence as a form of women empowerment by looking at examples from the Chechen Black Widows to Palestinian female suicide bombers in Gaza and the West Bank as their models.
The Rising Role of Women in Terrorist Movement in Indonesia
Previously, the involvement of women in terrorist activities in Indonesia was limited and forbidden. For example, within Jamaah Islamiyah (JI), women previously played roles in intermediary and childbearing in order to increase ties and creating future jihadists as ways to increase the number of the groups. Women also involved within JI as fundraisers for terror activities. Their involvement range from facilitating logistics and financing terrorist acts. However, there has been a growing trend of women in Indonesia to involve actively in terrorist activities. Indonesia’s police counterterrorism unit (Detachment 88) had arrested three women who were allegedly involved in terror activities in December 2016. They were planning to bomb Indonesian State Palace in Jakarta.
According to some reports, the women, namely Dian Yulia Novi, Arida Putri Maharani, and Tutin Sugiarti were allegedly part of a Solo-based terrorist network under the instruction from Bahrun Naim – the man who was responsible for the Sarinah bomb attack. After the arrest of the three women, Detachment 88 also arrested Ika Puspitasari in Purworejo, Central Java. Novi and Maharani are the wives of Muhammad Nur Solikhin – the man alleged to be the leader of the terror cell. Reports stated that Novi had a role to prepare the planned suicide bombing at the Indonesian State Palace. Maharani’s role was facilitating the funding for terror activities and was aware of the attack’s preparation. Sugiarti was responsible for radicalising Novi which in fact Novi is the wife of the group leader, while Puspitasari was responsible for preparing to launch a suicide bombing in Bali on New Year’s Eve.
Before that, there were several cases of women arrested or identified in terror-related activities. In October and July 2016, Tini Susanti Kaduku and Jumaitun alias Ummi Delima were detained as armed combatants with their husbands in the Mujahidin Indonesia Timur (MIT). In September 2015, Aisyah Lina Kamelya created Baqiyah United Group (BUG), an international pro-ISIS channel on the social media application Telegram. Members of this group included Indians, Kenyans, and Libyans. In August 2015, Ratna Nirmala asked her husband to accompany her and their children to Syria. Other cases were reported that in November 2015, there were six Indonesian women with alleged ties with ISIS were arrested by Turkish authorities to enter Syria.
The IPAC study on “Mothers to Bombers” showed how the role of women have gone beyond marriage, motherhood, and network building by participating in active role in military strategy. When some reports falsely claimed that terror attacks in Paris on November 2015 were launched by Europe’s first female suicide bomber, Indonesian women showed their admiration on the bombings through pro-ISIS forums.
Therefore, it can be argued that the varied roles of women in the terrorist movement has been increased recently and shifted from a passive into an active and important actor in supporting and committing terror activities. The ISIS standpoint on the position of women as equal to men in waging jihad has a significant influence on calling women worldwide to join the war in Syria and Iraq. This calling also has a significant impact on the involvement of women in many countries, including Indonesia to actively participate in radical and terrorist movements. The recruitment of women has raised the combatants’ number in terrorist groups. However, this movement can be seen as an indication that terrorist groups were also longing for more recruitment due to the shortage of male combatants. The idea of female suicide bombers can provoke the overreaction from the public and government; however, this was the purpose of the terrorist groups were seeking to. Therefore, counterterrorism agencies in Indonesia have to pay more attention to the increasing role of women in radical or terror activities and formulate a better approach in dealing with female jihadists. (Indriana Kartini)