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Why Do Women Turn into Suicide Bombers?

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Women's involvement in terror is real and growing. What drives women to give their lives for violent movements that insist on their inferiority? Jane Harman writes about this growing trend and what to do to stop it.

Recently, a young Nigerian girl—just 15 years old—approached a group of police officers and blew herself up. The attack failed; she claimed no lives but her own.

Boko Haram may have launched bloodier attacks, but I struggle to imagine a more heinous terror plot. That girl was just one of four Nigerian women to weaponize themselves this July in the populous northern city of Kano. The second attempt, targeting a shopping mall, likewise killed just the bomber. The third slaughtered three women lined up to buy oil for their cook-stoves. The fourth cut short the lives of six young people at Kano Polytechnic.

These attacks cast in sharp relief a trend that needs greater attention: the real and growing participation of women in extremist movements.

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About the Author

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Jane Harman

Distinguished Fellow and President Emerita, Wilson Center

Jane Harman, Distinguished Fellow and President Emerita, Wilson Center, is an internationally recognized authority on U.S. and global security issues, foreign relations and lawmaking. A native of Los Angeles and a public-school graduate, she went on to become a nine-term member of Congress, serving decades on the major security committees in the House of Representatives. Drawing upon a career that has included service as President Carter’s Secretary of the Cabinet and hundreds of diplomatic missions to foreign countries, Harman holds posts on nearly a dozen governmental and non-governmental advisory boards and commissions.

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