The Terrorists Wife

Posted: February 23, 2010 in Free Rad!cals
Tags: , , , , ,

A new post over at Free Rad!cals, this one exploring the phenomenon of terrorist wives in the UK. I am hoping that once my schedule clears up a bit to do something more substantial on this topic – as I say in the post, if anyone has any pointers for articles looking specifically at this phenomenon rather than female suicide bombers I would be very grateful….

The Terrorist’s Wife

Filed under: Europe, Terrorism

Over at the Inner London Crown Court the case is being heard against Cossor Ali, the wife of Abdullah Ahmed Ali, one of the leaders of the UK end of the plot disrupted in August 2006, alternatively known by its police codename “Overt” or as the “liquid plot” after the main bomb ingredient (and the reason for the subsequent restrictions on liquids on airplanes). Cossor Ali stands accused of being complicit in the plot by knowing about it prior to its occurrence and failing to alert the authorities.

The outcome of the case is unclear at this point, and at the moment one of the newer pieces of information to emerge is that Abdullah Ali was something of an absent and abusive husband – or at the very least domineering. Cossor Ali has claimed she felt her personality was being erased when she was absorbed into her husband’s family and that he was away for the birth of their child.

The evidence for the prosecution appears to hinge around statements recorded in Cossor Ali’s diary about extremist literature she read and the fact that she appeared to support the activities her husband was undertaking. She hoped he might become a “shahada” (a “martyr”, though the defence contends this means “the highest form of spirituality”). Her fingerprints were also found on some radical material at their home.

She is not the first wife in the UK to be brought up on charges of either knowing or being complicit in their husband’s activities. Mehreen Haji, wife of convicted Al Qaeda member Habib Ahmed, was cleared of arranging terrorist funding.

Tahira Tabassum, wife of attempted Tel Aviv bomber Omar Khan Sharif, was cleared of knowing what her husband was plotting. Bouchra el-Hor was tried and cleared, while her husband Yassin Nassari, was convicted on charges of possessing extremist material.

Mohammed Siddique Khan’s wife was picked up in a wave of arrests that followed the long investigation into the July 7, 2005 bombings, but was later released without facing any charges. On the other side of the coin, Yeshiembert Girma, the wife of Hussain Osman one of the failed July 21 bombers, was convicted of helping orchestrate Osman’s escape and of knowing about the plot prior to the event.

Fellow failed bomber Yassin Omar’s 17-year old recent fiancée Fardosa Abdullahi pled guilty to charges of facilitating his escape. Beyond British shores, there is of course the story of Muriel Degauque, the Belgian convert who blew herself up in Iraq soon after her husband had attempted a similar attack.

In other instances, there are stories of couples that meet while involved in radical groups (or join them together), a phenomenon that is maybe less surprising when one considers the time commitment and passion that is required when one joins such groups.

The underlying question, however, is the role, if any, of wives in terrorist plots? In Saudi Arabia, wives (or future spouses) are an integral part of the de-radicalization process, supposedly acting as stabilizers to men who have strayed.

While in Belgium Malika el Aroud, the wife of one of Ahmed Shah Masood’s assassins who later remarried a different plotter, is alleged to be a key figure in a radicalizing network. The point is that it would appear as though wives can play both a positive and negative role – and this is not to pry into the broader role of women in radicalizing networks more generally.

A recent story in the Telegraph suggested that security services believe a team of women had been dispatched by Al Qaeda to attack the West, while the BBC highlighted the phenomenon of female recruitment into extremist groups.

What remains somewhat unexplored (to my knowledge – any pointers to interesting reports greatly appreciated) is the role that women have played in terrorist plots – are they accelerators in their husbands radicalization (or possible plotters)? Or are they innocent naïf’s who either get caught up in their husband’s plotting or are firmly kept out of the loop by domineering males?

Or is none of this the case, and in fact they could play a positive role in shifting the husband’s attention from his extreme ideas? All of which would be useful knowledge when attempting to craft a counter- or de-radicalization strategy.

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