By Kipchumba Some
January 20 2019
They are young, intelligent, beautiful and
deadly. Welcome to the world of female jihadists, two of whom are currently
being sought by the Kenyan police over Tuesday’s attack at the DusitD2 hotel
and office complex in Nairobi, which has so far claimed 21 lives.
The most high-profile of the two is Violet
Kemunto Omwoyo, the wife of Ali Salim Gichunge, who is said to be among the
five-member team that carried out the attack at the upscale hotel which is
popular with Westerners.
So far, her role in the attack is fuzzy;
she is a suspect by association to her husband whom the authorities say was the
leader of the killer team.
He is believed to have been killed during
the rescue mission.
The other high-profile woman being pursued
by detectives is a Miriam Abdi - who is believed to have played a central role
in the delivery of the deadly weapons used in the attack.
The hunt for the mystery woman has taken
sleuths from the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) to various towns, among them
Eldoret and Mombasa, but she has so far proved slippery.
The duo add to a growing number of local
and international women who have joined the dark world of global terrorism and,
in the process, redefined their roles in modern insurgency groups from victims
to active agents.
The media often portray these women as
joining jihadi groups through romantic adventurism such as the “jihadi brides”,
naivety, or a sense of their own marginal lives lived in their own countries.
However, studies show that the majority of
women who support, join, or are recruited to these groups are actually
moderately to well-educated women, said security analyst George Musamali.
“Many women who are actually joining these
groups see it as a form of empowerment, liberation, and an opportunity to live
in a society with a belief system that they subscribe to,” he said.
For example, Ms Kemunto is a fresh-faced
holder of a journalism degree from Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology.
She plaited her hair, wore lipstick and a
nose ring to boot, all which had long been banned by the Al-Shabaab as they
tried to impose their austere, puritanical form of Islam in Somalia and beyond.
Female jihadis, such as Ms Kemunto, with
her beauty and level of education, serve as potent recruiting magnets for
Islamist groups, said Mr Musamali, a former General Service Unit officer.
There are a number of local examples of
this. In March 2015, four young women from relatively well-off families — Ummulkheir
Sadri Abdalla, Khadija Abubakar Abdulkarim, Halima Aden and Maryam Said Aboud —
were arrested in Elwak on allegations that they were sneaking into Somalia to
join the Al-Shabaab.
They were arraigned before a Mombasa
magistrate’s court with 20 charges including being Al-Shabaab members,
collecting and holding information on terrorism and organising terror trainings
The State prosecutor based his evidence on
the videos found on the suspects’ mobile phones, which he claimed to be showing
But many were surprised to learn that
Ummulkhayr was a third year medicine student in Sudan while Khadija was
studying pharmacy at Mount Kenya University (Thika Campus).
Ummulkhayr was born in 1996 and had been
studying at the International University of Africa in Khartoum since 2013,
according to the police.
According to government records, Maryam was
born on December 4, 1990 in Shela Malindi, and studied at Burhani Secondary
School in Malindi until 2005 then joined Kenyatta University (Mombasa campus)
She died in May last year while their case
was ongoing. Her three alleged accomplices were set free four months later, in
October last year.
Before them, a mother of four with a comely
face from the United Kingdom, Samantha Lewthwaite, also famously known as the
“white widow”, had captured world imagination after she joined Al-Shabaab.
Ms Lewthwaite, 35, is the widow of
Jamaican-born Jermaine Lindsay, an Al-Qaeda terrorist who blew himself up in
the King’s Cross underground station in London in July 2005, killing 26.
Ms Lewthwaite, the daughter of a retired
British military officer and widow of a suicide bomber, is wanted for
organising and financing terrorist activities inside the country and beyond.
Interpol issued a red notice arrest warrant
for her after she was linked to the 2013 Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi which
left 66 other people dead.
She is also linked to the slaughter of 148
people, most of them students, by Al-Shabaab gunmen at the Garissa University
College in 2015.
In December last year, British intelligence
sources told the London-based Mirror newspaper that Ms Lewthwaite had since
left Kenya and is now operating from Yemen where its chaotic political situation
has given her an ideal cover.
The other high-profile local female terror
suspect is Haniya Sagar, the wife of slain Muslim cleric Aboud Rogo, a fiery
preacher who used his sermons at Masjid Musa in Mombasa to openly urge Muslim
youths to take up the cause of global jihad up until he was shot by unknown
people in August 2012.
His wife was arrested and charged in 2016
with aiding terror activities and failing to give information which would have
stopped the commission of a terror attack.
She was jailed for 10 years in February
2018 but was set free on appeal in October.
Ms Sagar, and three others, had also been
charged with aiding three women — Tasni Farah, Ramla Hussein, and Maimuna
Abdirahman — to carry out an attack at the Central Police Station, Mombasa, in
The three women, who walked into the
station pretending to report a stolen phone, brandished knives after they were
barred from accessing the cells with one throwing a petrol bomb in an attempt
to burn down the station.
The women had apparently gone to rescue a
terror suspect, a former Recce squad officer, who had been held at the station.
Beyond our borders, two women — Amina Farah
Ali and Hawo Mohamed Hassan — from Minnesota were convicted in 2013 of
fundraising for Al-Shabaab in the US.
“Women involved are often seen as meek and
manipulated, when in fact, many of them have done due diligence before making
their decisions,” said Mr Richard Tuta, a former police officer and a scholar
in criminal and security matters.
“Usually these women open communication
channels with those already in the group, read material online and even leave
letters for their families back home justifying their decisions,” he said.
A key role women play in terror groups,
such as Al-Shabaab, is intelligence gathering, wrote Phoebe Donnelly in a blog
titled Women in Al-Shabaab through a New War’s Lens, which appeared in July
2018 in Women in International Security (WIIS), an online journal for
international peace and security.
are well educated women and see it as a form of empowerment says the
fact that some of these women are university students, hence the term
well educated, equates attendance there to 'being well informed and
enlightened'. For example a medical 'doctor', for that matter any
'doctor' is generally considered as ...well educated and therefore
“enlightened and well Informed”! Nothing can be far from the
truth. Years ago a winner for “Brain of Britten” award in the UK
was a train driver!
these women, in spite of their “education” and perhaps because of
that, are even more frustrated in the stifling environment and
culture they are brought up and are brainwashed by and recruited that
much more easily in the gun culture – the path to empowerment - of
misguided jihadists . This also applies to males in such situation.
young, intelligent, beautiful and deadly,
gives further impetus to join the gun commanders who anoint them
virgin hoors and guarantee them entry to jannah.