Medan, Indonesia – When Zakiah Aini, a 25 -year -old university dropout, walked into the Indonesian National Police Headquarters in Jakarta laying down an air gun on the last day of March, at first it was widely reported, and it was probably believed that the perpetrator this person.
But in recent years, more and more Indonesian women have been involved in violent attacks across the archipelago, especially after the return of men trained under ISIL (ISIS) to Syria and the formation of ISIL -affiliated groups such as the Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD).
“ISIS has made the structure of consent for the equality of women to play a more prominent role,” Judith Jacob, a terrorist and security analyst at the London School of Economics, told Al Jazeera. “By urging opportunist attacks and a general call for supporters to do what they can, it will open the door for women to participate more quickly than under previous rule and restraint. structures that promote formal hierarchies that ultimately exclude women.
As well as Aini’s attack on the police headquarters, which ended with the shooting of her by police officers in the area, the Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral in Makassar, Sulawesi was attacked the week before Easter of the two suicide bombers who were married just seven months ago.
In 2018, a church in Surabaya on the island of Java was both attacked by a husband and wife as well as their four children, and another team of husband and wife attacked a cathedral in Jolo in the Philippines in 2019. At least 20 people were killed in the same attack and many wounded.
All the women involved in the attacks are thought to be linked to JAD, sometimes referred to as “Southeast Asian ISIL”.
According to Jacob, it is important not to dismiss such attacks or the assumption that the women involved are simply following orders from the men.
“Obviously there are a lot of dimensions to it, but the first thing that comes out of the way is the horrible, sexist mentality that these women are seduced or forced to participate in,” she told Al Jazeera. “These women are active and willing participants in their own right and have always been a key component of militant Islamism in Indonesia. The difference now is to shift to more active or ‘front-line’ roles . ”
Following attack on police headquarters, National Police Chief General Listyo Sigit Prabowo described Aini as a “lone wolf”, though in the letter he wrote to his parents and siblings, he included a briefly described manifesto in which he was outraged against perceived un-Islamic institutions as free. elections, Shariah -compliant banks and civil servants, including former Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as Ahok, who jailed for defamation in 2017.
He also posted an ISIL flag on Instagram before the attack and bought the weapon he used from a man in the province of Aceh who was a member of the JAD and had been convicted of terrorism.
Noor Huda Ismail, a former member of the hard -line Darul Islam group that has since established the Institute for International Peace Building and runs deradicalisation programs and workshops across Indonesia, told Al Jazeera that social media has a role to play in women of direct violence.
“In Indonesian history, women have had a more supportive role and are not directly involved in terrorism even if they are part of terrorist families,” she said.
“There is no single reason why women are involved in terrorism but they are mostly motivated by private and emotional factors.”
This could include issues such as revenge, redemption, or relationship factors such as the hope of finding a match in the case of travel to Syria, he added.
“Radicalization is not gender-neutral and is experienced differently by men and women. We need to look at gender as a social construction and not in biological terms. For example, the idea that men are naturally violent and women are naturally peaceful. ”
However, he warns, the study of gender within hardline groups is something that will remain in its infancy.
“A lot of research is needed to identify the driving forces for women’s participation in violence. The government needs to work with civil society and the private sectors to work on online and offline intervention.”
Even within radical groups themselves, there is visible debate about the role of women.
Signs of despair?
A former male JAD member, who spoke to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity, said that while in ISIL circles permission was seen for a woman to be involved in an attack against a party that considered an enemy “the decision to be involved or not usually depends on the group planning any attacks”.
The JAD group he was part of “did not want to include women in frontal attacks while the JAD group in Surabaya involved women as part of its attack strategy in the church bombing in 2018 “.
He added that in addition to the psychological impact of such attacks on the public, female attackers were also used as a propaganda tool.
“The participation of women in forward attacks is allowed in ISIS circles and it is used to advance morale,” she said. “The idea is to spread the narrative that if even women dare to sacrifice their lives, what about men?”
However, there may also be more numerous and practical reasons for the more active role of women.
“We saw a much clearer call by ISIS for women to join jihad against the enemy in 2017, which you can see is not so much a femininity breakthrough for ISIS, but more necessary to be there. they are on the back foot and have to move. all sectors of the so -called caliphate to survive, ”said Jacob.
Since the beginning of the year, Indonesia’s elite counterterrorism unit, Densus 88, has carried out several raids across Indonesia and arrested more than 100 suspects, including Munarman, the former secretary-general of the hardline group banned the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), and three other senior FPI officials in April and May.
Local authorities have also tightened security across the islands since the March bombing of Makassar and the Jakarta attacks, amid speculation that Aini quickly entered the National Police Headquarters because she was a woman.
“The call from ISIS came at a good time where there was an opening and the security force was slowly capturing the potential of women to plan and participate in attacks,” Jacob said.
“In the Indonesian context, the messages received by the audience were found to be in the face of a relatively lost network after years of police suppression and surveillance.”