A new joint security alert from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI warns that terrorists are increasingly turning to women and teenagers to carry out suicide bombings.
The bulletin, obtained by CBS News, says "Female suicide bombers conducted more than twice as many attacks in Iraq in the first six months of 2008 than in all of 2007". Already this year at least 20 female martyrs have been linked to attacks including the June bombing of a government building in Baquba that killed 16 and injured 40 others.
Women, the alert points out, "are better able to conceal explosive devices under their traditional loose-fitting garments."
Additionally, CBS News terrorism consultant Paul Kurtz says that women are also less likely to alert other citizens, not just law enforcement. "Terrorists may calculate women or young adult will have a better chance of escaping detection. Citizens are less inclined to believe a woman or young adult would carry out an attack and therefore may refrain from tipping off authorities when faced with suspect behavior."
US intelligence analysts also say Islamic radicals are enlisting greater numbers of teenagers for their deadliest missions. One off-shoot of Osama bin Laden's network, known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), has established a specific group called "Young People of Paradise," a collection of 14 to 16 year olds now training for suicide assignments.
While the joint DHS/FBI alert notes there is no intelligence indicating any threat that suicide bombers may be targeting the US, it does urge authorities to be aware of the emerging threat. Just because most suicide bombings have been carried out by adult men, there is "…no reliable, predictable profile of suicide terrorists…"
And the trend towards using women and teenagers could be a sign, the bulletin concludes, that Islamic militants are changing their tactics to enhance their ability to beat homeland defenses.
Kurtz adds that women are also becoming more and more willing to become suicide bombers. "The pool of willing males may be shrinking in some places, like Iraq, and women may be easier to recruit if presented with an argument that they can avenge the death of a family member. Recruitment of women to carry out attacks demonstrates the extreme tactics al Qaeda is willing to use to meet their objectives," said Kurtz.
By Bob Orr & Rob Hendin