American Women and Terrorism: A Growing Trend

American Women and Terrorism: A Growing Trend


The number of American women charged for their involvement in terrorism activity has doubled within the past year.  In addition to planning terrorist plots, these American women have allegedly raised funds and provided material goods to foreign terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah and Al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups.  


The terror charges unsealed in the spring of 2010 against two American women – who plotted to murder a Swedish cartoonist who depicted the Prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog – belie the preexisting stereotypes of those involved in terrorist activity. Colleen LaRose, one of the American women charged, allegedly scoured the Internet to recruit other women whose nationalities and physical appearance would allow them to travel and support "violent jihad" without raising suspicion. LaRose herself boasted about the ease at which her own physical appearance allowed her access to various locations and enabled her to "blend in with many people" to "achieve what is in my heart."


One of the LaRose's recruits was Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, another American woman and convert to Islam.  Paulin-Ramirez allegedly accepted LaRose's invitation and brought her six-year-old son to Europe, where, according to court documents, they planned to live and train with terrorists.


The case "demonstrates that terrorists are looking for Americans to join them in their cause, and it shatters any lingering thought that we can spot a terrorist based on appearance," U.S. Attorney Michael L. Levy stated after the charges were unsealed. 


Other women have similarly planned terrorist attacks against American and Western interests both in the U.S. and abroad. Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman who has received degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brandeis University, was convicted in February 2010 for attempting to kill U.S. security personnel in Afghanistan.  After her arrest, Afghan police found in Siddiqui's possession documents on making explosives and descriptions of New York City landmarks, including the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge. 


American extremists have distributed material encouraging women to take a more active role in supporting their radical agenda. In June 2010, for example, Zachary Chesser, an American citizen from Virginia who has since been arrested for attempting to join an Al Qaeda-linked terrorist group in Somalia, stressed the importance of women in the movement. Women are "responsible for producing a new generation of mujaahidiin [Muslim warriors]," Chesser wrote in his 25-page report, entitled, Raising Al-Qaa'ida: A Look into the Long Term Obligations of the Global Jihaad Movement.  "A lot of sisters are very involved in the support of the mujaahidiin, but their efforts go unmentioned, so other sisters do not have anything to look forward to from what they know." 


Chesser's wife, Proscovia Nzabanita (also known as Umm Talhah), expressed support for her husband's extremist rhetoric in her own online comments and by re-posting various videos and other material he had distributed. Chesser's wife also maintained her own YouTube channel, in which she posted numerous terrorist videos that feature radical American Muslim ideologues and threaten to "knock American down to her knees." In October 2010, Nzabanita was charged with making a false statement in a terror investigation for lying to authorities about her husband's plan to travel to Somalia to join Al Shabaab, an Al Qaeda-linked terrorist organization based in Somalia.  She pleaded guilty the following month and, according to the plea agreement, must relinquish her legal status and leave the U.S. within 120 days.  


Foreign terrorist organizations have also sought to recruit female operatives with Western appearances. In January 2010, for example, reports surfaced that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Al Qaeda's affiliate based in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, had formed a brigade of non-Arab women who carry Western passports. The women were reportedly recruited to carry out suicide attacks against American and Western targets in the region. Al Qaeda members in Iraq have also allegedly recruited women to carry out suicide attacks.


As part of their effort to recruit female operatives, various terrorist organizations have disseminated propaganda materials encouraging women to play a more direct role in the global terrorist movement. In a statement disseminated online in January 2010, the wife of Al Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri delineated the role of women in the global terrorist movement. In the statement, Umaymah Hasan Ahmed Muhammed Hasan encouraged women to keep themselves "in the service of the Mujahideen [Muslim warriors]," and argued that women "should fulfill whatever they ask of us, may it be through monetary aid to them or any service or information or suggestion or participation in fighting or even through a martyrdom operation." Throughout her statement, Hasan praised the "many sisters" that have carried out "martyrdom operations" and asked Allah to allow her and other Muslim women to follow them.


The following is a sampling of the American women who have been indicted or convicted in the U.S. on terrorism charges since the September 11 terror attacks:

  • An indictment unsealed in a San Diego federal court on November 15, 2010, charged U.S. permanent resident Nima Ali Yusuf, 24, with conspiracy to provide material support to Al Shabaab and making false statements in a matter involving international terrorism.  Yusuf, who allegedly provided personnel and money to Al Shabaab, was arrested three days earlier.

  • Amina Farah Ali and Hawo Mohamed Hassan – both naturalized U.S. citizens from Somalia – were arrested in August 2010 for raising funds for Al Shabaab, an Al Qaeda-linked terrorist organization based in Somalia, through door-to-door solicitations in various Somali communities in the region. Court documents have alleged that the women solicited financial contributions to support terrorist activities in Somalia during various fundraising teleconferences.  Court documents also claim that the women raised funds for Al Shabaab "under the false pretense that the funds were for the poor and needy." 

  • Nadia Rockwood, a dual citizen of the U.S. and the U.K., pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges in July 2010.  Rockwood admitted to making false statements to federal authorities about her husband's plan to carry out revenge attacks against those he believed "desecrated Islam."  Rockwood's husband had formalized his list of 15 specific people and entities and proposed killing his targets by using mail bombs or by shooting them in the head.

  • An American woman from Ohio was charged in June 2010 for attempting to provide funds and vehicles for Hezbollah to use against IsraelAmera Akl and her husband, who is also holds dual American and Lebanese citizenship, purchased a vehicle at an auto auction and planned to conceal funds within the vehicle and ship it to Hezbollah operatives in Lebanon.  Court documents have quoted Akl as stating that "she dreamed of dressing like Hezbollah, carrying a gun and dying as a martyr."   

  • Colleen LaRose and Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, two American women who converted to Islam, have been charged in a terror plot to murder a Swedish cartoonist who depicted the Prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog in a Swedish newspaper.  Charges were unsealed against LaRose in March 2010 for recruiting potential terrorists online, and against Paulin-Ramirez the following month for conspiring to provide material support to terrorists in connection with the plot.

  • Zeinab Taleb-Jedi, a naturalized American citizen from Iran, was indicted in a New York federal court in September 2006 for allegedly providing material support to the People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization.  Taleb-Jedi allegedly served on the terrorist group's military leadership council and attended its training camp in Iraq in the late 1990s.  Taleb-Jedi pleaded guilty in May 2010 and was sentenced to time served.

  • In February 2005, defense lawyer Lynne Stewart was convicted in New York of providing material aid to terrorists, perjury and defrauding the government for passing messages between convicted terrorist Omar Abdel Rahman, who plotted to blow up New York landmarks in 1993, and his militant followers in Egypt.  Stewart, who was sentenced to more than two years in prison in 2006, was resentenced in July 2010 to ten years in prison.

  • Also in 2003, American-born October Martinique Lewis was sentenced in Oregon to three years in prison for laundering money to six men who were attempting to join the Taliban to fight American forces.