LONDON - A video showing women in burqas at a weapons training camp in Pakistan’s lawless tribal region has prompted fears that militant groups are recruiting women to frontline terrorist roles.
The minute-long footage, passed to The Sunday Times, shows five women being trained to use AK-47 assault weapons and fire rocket-propelled grenades.
The remote setting suggests the film was shot in the Waziristan region bordering Afghanistan that has become a safe haven for the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other militant groups.
A pale blue flag with a white crescent indicates the women belong to the Turkistan Islamic party, a terrorist group thought to have links to the Taliban.
The burqa-clad women seemed to be in the early stage of their training, said security officials.
In April, the same group released a similar video of boys, some as young as six, being trained to fire handguns.
The Site Intelligence Group - Search for International Terrorist Entities - has received similar video. “The overarching message in the video was ‘here are women fighting, where are you men?’” Adam Raisman, a Site analyst told the Sunday Times.
“It was a way to emasculate those Muslim men who do not participate in jihad,” he added.
The portrayal of women in an active combat role could mark a shift in Jihadist propaganda, says Bill Roggio, a terrorism expert at the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies, a US think tank.
In Quetta, a female suicide bomber detonated a device last month on a bus, killing 14 female students.
The sectarian extremist group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), which has known links with Al-Qaeda, claimed credit for the attack.
“We know they run suicide training camps for women and children,” said Roggio. “There have been six or seven suicide attacks in the Afghan-Pakistan region since 2010. Prior to that there were none.”
The Tehrik-e-Taliban, LeJ and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan have used female bombers on six other occasions since December 2010 to hit targets in Pakistan.
They have established training camps in Waziristan that are used to indoctrinate and train female bombers.
Qari Ziaur Rahman, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda leader who operates from Pakistan’s tribal agencies of Mohmand and Bajaur and in the Afghan provinces, is known to run most of the training camps for suicide bombers.