THE HAGUE, the Netherlands -- The "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) is targeting women from the millennial generation as it seeks new recruits after the fall of its so-called "caliphate", according to the European Union's police agency.
In a report on ISIS propaganda focussed on women from June 2014 to August 2018, Europol said that this could "pave the way" for a change in the role of female militants in future terror organisations.
"We are talking about especially millennials," Manuel Navarette, head of Europol's European Counter Terrorism Centre, told reporters on June 14 in The Hague as he unveiled the report.
"ISIS propaganda is focussed on women between 16 to 25, a group more vulnerable to these activities, and they have access to social media," Navarette said. "ISIS has adapted to the new target."
ISIS had in particular assigned new and "more active" roles to female militants within the organisation, while keeping its fundamentalist ideas about the position of women in society.
"They kept, somehow, the traditional role given to women: being supportive, taking care of men," Navarette said.
"But then they start asking women to take a different role, to assist as a doctor, to assist in a different way, not only as the traditional housewife," he added.
Homeless ISIS seeks new territory
The effort to recruit millennial women comes after coalition forces routed ISIS from its so-called "caliphate" in Iraq and Syria earlier this year. Now, the fighters appear to be shifting their focus to Afghanistan and other countries close by to regroup and continue their violent insurgency.
The international community is torn over what to do with about 4,000 foreign women and 8,000 children linked to ISIS who remain stranded in Syria and Iraq.
The fear is that the targeting of women for propaganda could pay dividends for insurgents in the years to come, according to Europol.
"The worry is that this increase in the involvement of women could pave the way for potentially major changes in the role of jihadi women in the future," the Europol report said.
An increase in the arrests of women connected to terrorism has occurred in France and Britain in particular, said Navarette.
"There could be a kind of relation between the propaganda machine of [ISIS] asking, demanding, for the more active among specific groups of women and children to be a part of terrorism," he added.
Despite the findings, law enforcement agencies need to take a "gender-neutral approach" when looking at the reasons for radicalisation, said Europol Director Catherine De Bolle said.
"It's the way to paradise, for both men and women," she said.