Long before the terror attacks in Paris and the manhunt for Hayat Boumeddiene, wife of one of the men accused of killing a police officer, women have participated as active combatants in terrorist-related violence.

Able to move closer to targets without detection, women increasingly play an active role as suicide bombers. They represent 15 percent of the bombers in attacks between 1985 and 2006 and make up as much as 30 percent of the fighting force in places like Chechnya and Sri Lanka, according to research. The terrorist group Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade has an estimated 300 women in its special unit of highly trained female suicide bombers.

While often left out of contemporary discourse on the state of terror in the world, women have been prominent actors in terror groups throughout history, with as many as 20 percent of terrorist operations in the late 20th century involving female combatants or leaders. The New York Times reported this month that "roughly 10 percent of [ISIL's] Western recruits are female, often lured by their peers through social media and instant messaging."

Yet, the motivations for women as perpetrators of terror-like violence are still a largely unexplored, misunderstood aspect of extremism and religiously motivated conflict, with profound implications for the church’s missionary strategy and outreach.

Research conducted by terrorism expert Anne Speckhard shows that female terrorists are compelled by many of the same causes as their male counterparts, including conflict-induced trauma, revenge or nationalism, or community outrage. Other drives include feelings of oppression, marginalization, or negative self-identity. Some women turn to violence as a result of their own ...

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