Bel Trew, Cairo, Ammar Shammary, Baghdad
Islamic State has unleashed a wave of female suicide bombers in Mosul, with 20 blowing themselves up since Sunday in a last-ditch attempt to halt advancing Iraqi troops.
The women, believed to be brides of the militants, hid among residents fleeing the country’s second largest city before detonating their explosive vests.
Since the weekend at least 20 have targeted troops and civilians, an Iraqi intelligence source said, as advancing troops penned the militants into a 250m by 500m pocket along the River Tigris — their last remaining territory in the country. “In the last month 38 female suicide bombers blew themselves up in the city,” one security official said.
Until now, Isis has rarely used female suicide bombers in Iraq, where wives or female supporters usually assume domestic or policing roles, but they are now spearheading the extremists’ bloody last stand. An Iraqi commander said yesterday that the militants were engaged in “a fight to the death”.
General Abdul Ghani al-Assadi, head of the country’s elite counterterrorism service (CTS), said the deployment of women bombers appeared to be a tactical development.
Zuhair al-Juburi, the head of Mosul’s city council, said that the women were largely non-Iraqi Isis wives, many of whom had chosen death over arrest.
“One of the suicide bombers was Tunisian. She blew herself up among displaced people in the old city,” he said.
She was one of seven women who attacked Mosul’s old city on Monday, according to Lieutenant Colonel Salam Hussein of the Iraqi special operations forces. Security sources said at least 11 civilians were killed, but declined to release details of troop casualties.
Soldiers desperately trying to identify attackers are insisting that women remove their full face veils before approaching their lines. “We are facing more suicide attacks than ever, and we are demanding all women fleeing the old city to remove their niqabs. Most of the bombers are foreigners from Arab countries who joined Isis in Iraq,” said one CTS soldier.