Wednesday, January 27, 2010




Sections of the US media, including the ABC News, have been reporting about the alleged plans of Al Qaeda to use female suicide bombers of non-Arab appearance and with possibly Western passports for future acts of terrorism.

2.Richard Clarke, who was an adviser on counter-terrorism to then President Geoge Bush in 2001, has been quoted as saying: "They have trained women. There are others who are still out there who have been trained and who are clean skins – that means people who we do not have a record of, people who may not look like Al Qaeda terrorists, who may not be Arabs, and may not be men."

3. A perusal of the reports on this subject appearing in the US and British media gives one reason to believe that this information might have come from Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian student who tried unsuccessfully to bring down a transatlantic airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day. He has been under interrogation by the FBI since then.

4. Use of female suicide bombers is nothing new. Palestinians have done it against Israeli civilians. The LTTE of Sri Lanka used a female suicide bomber to kill former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in May,1991. There have been other incidents of acts of suicide terrorism by female bombers in Iraq and Jordan in recent years.

5. Terrorist organisations tend to use female suicide bombers for two reasons. Firstly, they are more fiercely motivated than men, particularly if they or their close relatives had suffered at the hands of the security forces which they want to avenge. Secondly, terrorist organisations using female bombers calculate on the possibility that female bombers would be less subject to strict security checks than males. They are able to avoid access control with greater use than male bombers.

6. The dilemma likely to be faced by Western security agencies would be in identifying the potential female suicide bombers of non-Arab appearance unless they manage to pick up tell-tale clues from electronic intercepts. In the case of David Coleman Headley of the Chicago cell of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, one saw the LET and the 313 Brigade of Ilyas Kashmiri trying to use a person of mixed Pakistani-American marriage with non-Pakistani physical features to infiltrate India by concealing his Pakistani and Muslim origin in order to facilitate the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai.

7. If Al Qaeda has really recruited female suicide bombers of non-Arab appearance as has been reported, they could have come from either White female converts to Islam or from children of mixed marriages such as Headley, who could easily pass off as non-Muslims of white extraction and hoodwink the security. There have been no reports in the past of instances of white female converts to Islam volunteering themselves to help organisations such as Al Qaeda. Are there female Headleys in the ranks of Al Qaeda? This is an angle which needs to be explored. (27-1-10)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )