RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're going to turn our attention now to the self-proclaimed Islamic State and its recruitment efforts. Hundreds of Westerners are believed to have joined ISIS. Today we're going to hear about some of the women who have done so. Lauren Frayer traveled to a Spanish territory in North Africa where young female members of ISIS have been arrested for allegedly trying to recruit others to join the ranks.
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: The Muslim call to prayer mingles with church bells in Ceuta. This is Spanish territory, part of the EU, but in Africa - separated from the rest of Europe by the Mediterranean and separated from neighboring Morocco by a huge fence. Half the residents are Muslim, most are unemployed. And experts believe this is fertile ground for a new kind of jihadi recruitment for women by women. Among the suspects are two childhood friends, Rahma Yarmak and Loubna Muhamed, aged 18 and 21.
LAARBI MAATEIS: (Foreign language spoken).
FRAYER: "Loubna came from a middle class family," says Muslim community leader Laarbi Maateis, who knows both girls. She wore a headscarf but dressed in a modern way. Maateis says "they were normal teenagers constantly on Facebook and texting." Then one day last November, Loubna disappeared.
MAATEIS: (Foreign language spoken).
FRAYER: "She had just started a new job teaching nursery school when she went missing," he says. "She called her parents from Turkey on her way to Syria. I often speak with her father, her grandfather and uncle. They're all traumatized," he says. From ISIS territory, Loubna also texted her friend Rahma. Spanish authorities were monitoring their messages, and when Rahma tried to travel to Syria herself a few weeks later, she was arrested at the Turkish border. What's unique about these girls is that according to Spanish officials, they were not aspiring jihadi brides but, rather, master recruiters for ISIS. Spain says Loubna and Rahma were members, perhaps even the leaders, of an all-female jihadi ring.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Al-Qaida, al-Qaida.
FRAYER: In the poor neighborhood where Rahma grew up, teenage boys yell Al Qaeda at foreign visitors. They know the area's reputation. At least 15 families here have reported their loved ones missing, suspected of traveling to Syria or Iraq. Rahma is among more than a dozen locals who have been arrested. Nearly 20 percent of ISIS recruits in Europe are believed to be Muslim women. They are often less likely to work, more likely to use social media and socialize in all-female groups. Those are difficult for intelligence agencies to penetrate.
JANE HUCKERBY: The infrastructure for countering violent extremism, it tends to be just very male.
FRAYER: Duke Law professor Jane Huckerby advises governments on countering violent extremism. She says stereotypes of Muslim women's domesticity have led authorities to underestimate their power in ISIS.
HUCKERBY: And so women in particular - young women - have taken a very prominent role as recruiters of other young women in their peer networks, in all-female brigades also going on home raids and operating checkpoints.
FRAYER: Huckerby says authorities need to better understand how some Muslim women may feel alienated in the West if they want to keep them away from ISIS. For now, Rahma is in a Spanish prison awaiting trial. Her friend Loubna is believed to be somewhere in Syria or Iraq. And Spanish authorities are trying to figure out how many other young women they had contact with here. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Ceuta, Spain.
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