Head of Research Ghaffar Hussain contributed to this Times article on reports of young British women seeking marriage with fighters in Syria.
British women are travelling to Syria in increasing numbers to marry jihadists as the civil war radicalises Muslim societies across Europe.
Two women from Portsmouth, one from London and one from Surrey — one of them a convert — are known to have married English-speaking rebels fighting in Syria, and it is believed that dozens more are already there or are trying to follow them.
Other women with similar intent have travelled from countries including France, Sweden, Belgium and Serbia, according to researchers at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London.
Shiraz Maher, one of those analysing the movement, said the number of British women known to have married fighters was almost certainly an underestimate, and many more were seeking to contact British jihadists in Syria through online forums.
“The thing that is interesting is the staggering extent to which so many women are asking questions. We think it is pretty significant,” he said.
He added that there were unconfirmed reports of jihadists marrying on the internet, through Skype — allowing Muslim women to travel alone, which would otherwise not be permissible.
Unlike previous recruits attracted to fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq, young Muslim men from across Europe going to Syria have in many cases constructed online profiles through social media — posting self-consciously heroic updates and photographs, and exhortations to others to follow.
As many as 250 British men have already returned from fighting in Syria and another 150 are thought to be fighting there now — raising concerns among the security services that some could try to carry out acts of terrorism in the UK on their return.
The jihadists are using the internet to answer questions and offer religious and practical advice, seemingly attracting groupies who frequently propose, or pose questions about marriage.
One jihadist from Portsmouth, who uses the alias Abu Abdullah al-Britani, a follower of the late radical American preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, was asked this month: “How can a sister ask you for a marriage? What are your standards? Are you interested after asking Allah of course.”
He replied by saying that his three priorities for a wife were religiosity, doctrinal purity and beauty, before suggesting that they should continue the conversation on a private forum.
Some asked if they could join other girls and travel together to Syria.
One asked: “I wanna take another route to Turk[ey] because it’s less suspicious but I don’t have much money to book a flight to another country and then from that book a flight to Turk! I duno wat to do. I’m a sis and gotta come alone as well.”
A former Portsmouth public schoolboy, Mahdi Hassan, 19, who uses the alias Abu Dujana, wearily fended off a would-be wife last week who asked if she could “for the sake of jihad, make soldiers of Allah”.
He answered: “I want to but my situation in jihad means I couldnt fulfil the right of a woman.” Mr Hassan was recently wounded fighting for the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that ISIS had formed an all-female vice police unit in the city of Raqaa to enforce cultural and dress restrictions on women, with some reports that they were armed.
He said that many women contacting British jihadists appeared to see them as living a “perfect life” and wanted to share it. Last month, a British student, Nawal Msaad, 26, was charged with terrorist offences after she was arrested at Heathrow allegedly carrying £16,500 to give to a fighter in Syria.
Two 17-year-old girls, from West Yorkshire and London, were arrested at the airport last month, seemingly destined for Syria via Istanbul.
Ghaffar Hussain, the chief researcher at the counterextremist thinktank Quilliam, said Western mobile phone 3G technology was allowing Muslim women from fundamentalist backgrounds to interact with young jihadist men in a way hitherto impossible because of cultural mores.
However, some women might think twice before answering the call of jihad if an answer from Abu Abdullah al-Britani is anything to go by. Asked last week what the life of a jihadist wife was like, he replied: “I gather mostly staying home looking after husband kids when he’s home”.
To view the article in the Times, please click here (£).