Female Foreign Fighters of ISIL

Since 2013, over 50,000 foreign affiliates or foreign fighters travelled to Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) from at least 83 countries, according to last year’s Global Terrorism Index. As the conflict declines, data tracking the repatriation of foreign fighters shows that more male foreign fighters than female foreign fighters are returning to their home countries.

At the height of the caliphate in late 2014, ISIL held over 100,000 km of territory with a population of 11 million residents.

As ISIL suffered consistent territorial and financial losses, an increasing number of foreign affiliates have returned home. By July 2019, approximately 16% of the 52,808 foreign affiliates that joined ISIL had returned. In four of the nine regions sending foreign affiliates to ISIL, a higher percentage of male affiliates returned.

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Of the 8,202 returnees, 7% were female. This may be due to the difficulty of repatriating children born into the caliphate, one of the many complex challenges countries have faced in dealing with former ISIL affiliates.

Globally, an estimated 16% of male affiliates returned from ISIL, compared to 9% of female affiliates.

Europe had the largest variation between male and female affiliates who returned. A total of 2,384 affiliates returned, marking 29% of total affiliates who travelled to ISIL from Europe. Of the 4,094 male affiliates, an estimated 45% returned, compared to 18% of female affiliates.

Over 13% of male affiliates from MENA returned, compared to just 2% of female affiliates.

In Russia and Eurasia, more female affiliates returned compared to male, at 12% and 10% respectively. This was largely because, in Kazakhstan, at least 137 females were repatriated as part of Operation Zhusan between January and May 2019. Female returnees faced a rehabilitation and reintegration process, with five facing charges for terror-related offenses.

However, in Russia, approximately 2% of female affiliates returned, compared to 12% of male affiliates. Until November 2017, Russia was actively repatriating women, after which point only minors were repatriated due to the perceived security risk of female ISIL affiliates.

A number of former female ISIL affiliates remain in Iraq and Syria, possibly due to the difficulty of moving with children. In al-Hol, the largest refugee camp in Syria, approximately 12,000 ISIL affiliates remain, including 4,000 women and 8,000 minors.

For the latest data and trends in global terrorism, see our global events and resources page for information on the upcoming 2020 Global Terrorism Index launch.

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About the author: The article has been written by the Vision of Humanity Editorial staff  – brought to you by the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP). The IEP investigates the impact of COVID-19 and future trends in economics, politics, social dynamics, conflict and development.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com.In the Featured Photo: Women, reportedly wives and members of Daesh, walk under the supervision of a female fighter from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) at Al-Hol camp in Syria on 17 February 2019. Featured Photo Credit: BULENT KILIC/MEMO


About the Author /

The Institute for Economics and Peace is the world’s leading think tank dedicated to developing metrics to analyse peace and to quantify its economic value. It does this by developing global and national indices, calculating the economic cost of violence, analysing country level risk and understanding positive peace. The research is used extensively by governments, academic institutions, think tanks, non-governmental organisations and by intergovernmental institutions such as the OECD, The Commonwealth Secretariat, the World Bank and the United Nations. The Institute was recently ranked in the top 15 most impactful think tanks in the world on the Global Go To Think Tank Index. Founded by IT entrepreneur and philanthropist Steve Killelea in 2007, the Institute for Economics and Peace is impacting traditional thinking on matters of security, defence, terrorism and development.

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