On 26 October 2019, US Special Forces killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the founder and leader of Daesh. The group was already under pressure: it had lost most of its territory, and many considered it functionally defeated. Losing its leader only reinforced that narrative. Nevertheless, the organisation remains present in Iraq and Syria, and can rely on affiliates around the world. What really then is the significance of Baghdadi’s death for Daesh?
The threat of female terrorism is not new. In recent years, women have been amongst those caught planning bold attacks across Europe and spotted fighting for Daesh. Yet the tendency of security services to view women as victims, rather than as perpetrators, continues to hinder counterterrorism efforts, particularly in Britain. Britain’s current Prevent strategy aims to stop people becoming or supporting terrorists, but the strategy is ill-equipped to tackle the threat of female terror cells. With the fall of Daesh, the prospect of returning female radicals armed with the knowledge and ideological motivation to attack seems increasingly likely. This reality demands an urgent reassessment of the way we understand and combat female terror cells.