When French officials announced they were searching for a woman as an accomplice in the attacks on a Jewish grocery store in Paris in which four hostages were killed, many in the West shook their heads. How was it possible that a woman, one born and raised in the West, would become a jihadi, a fighter committed to an extremist ideology that is hostile to women?
Hayat Boumedienne, it turns out, is only one of a surprisingly large number of Western women who have been joining Islamist groups in recent years. The exact figures are not known, but researchers have some idea of how many European women have traveled to Syria to join the so-called Islamic State (IS) in the past few months, and they believe they number in the hundreds, with scores arriving from France, Germany, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. At least one American woman was killed fighting in Syria, and several have been arrested trying to get there.
The fact that women living in countries where they enjoy a measure of freedom and equality would want to join an organization espousing seventh-century mores calls for an explanation. But it is also instructive to learn how jihadi groups, all led by men, view the role of women in their campaign.