Of the more than 100 Danes who have travelled to Syria to fight in that country's civil war, at least 15 have been women.
Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert at the Swedish National Defence College, told The Local that many European women are going to Syria to marry jihadists, having been seduced by slick social media messages and the belief that they will be rewarded both on earth and in the afterlife if their husband becomes a martyr.
“There is a sense of excitement. There is a romanticised view of wanting to marry a martyr. There is a death cult and an obsession with getting to paradise. The women also get special privileges if they are married to a martyr. If you’re married to a fighter who has died, you rise up among the other women,” Ranstorp said.
“There is also this doomsday prophecy about judgement day and a fight against the false messiah. So they see what’s going on in Syria as a sacred moment in time in a sacred place,” he added.
Ranstorp explained that jihadists believe that martyrs are allowed to bring 70 family members with them to paradise if they die as a martyr fighting for jihad. Thus many of the women see their decision to marry a fighter as a “heroic” decision for their family and their community.
Ranstorp said that Isis is very effective at recruiting women via social media and that the jihadists’ message can appeal to women who are in a very patriarchal environment.
“They are often not free to marry who they want, so in some ways this seems sort of liberating – that they can choose their own destiny and go down and marry a martyr. However, what they don’t understand is that once get into Isis’s ranks, they are at their mercy,” he said.
Many of the women who are seduced by the Isis message to leave Western societies find out that it is not what they thought it would be.
“Many of the women are calling home crying, many of them have a kid with one of these guys. They call home crying saying ‘Get me out of here,’ but of course there is no way to help them. They are stuck there. They are not allowed to travel outside of the cities without a male escort,” Ranstorp said.
Ranstorp said that once one joins the jihadi environment, it’s like entering a different world.
“They take on new personas, they often adopt a nom de guerre, with the men taking on a name that includes ‘Abu’ or ‘father’ and the women a name including ‘Umm’ or ‘mother’. So they take on these personas and create this world in which they live in, which becomes an echo chamber of extremism. And these things eventually find their way into the bedroom of some girl surfing the internet in Denmark and some of them get sucked in,” Ranstorp said.
Ranstorp told The Local that the best thing Denmark can do is to accept that women can’t be stopped from going to Syria and to instead focus on what to do when they come back. He said it would be particularly effective to have women who have actually been in Syria share their stories with others.
“Someone needs to tell them that it is no bed of roses down there. They will literally pass you around as a sex slave. There will be women who will have sex with different men every night and they are completely at their mercy,” he said.
According to a report from DR, at least two women who left Denmark were killed while in Syria.