Marseille attack: women as a choice for islamist terrorists? – by Maria Alvanou

Most of the worldwide media focus currently on the murderous attack that took place in the US. Yet, there was another attack that took place on Monday, in Europe, that is quite alarming, because it could signal an operational trend of the islamist terror network that is rooted in ideological parameters.

In Marseille, two women were stabbed to death by an attacker who is reported to have shouted prior his act “Allahu Akbar” (and was finally shot dead by french soldiers”[1] The attack took place at the main station and Daesh has already claimed responsibility, so it is fair enough to evaluate the incident as a terrorist one.

This attack in Marseille does not just fit the pattern of recent knife stabbings in France, but- and this could be more interesting- it could be evidence of a trend to target and victimize women. On August there was a similar attack, when  again two women were stabbed to death in the city of Turku in Finland and authorities have expressed the opinion that the perpetrator was seeking to attack specifically women[2]. Yet in the Turku incident Daesh did not claim responsibility, and the whole case still seems puzzling and unclear, since the organization did embrace the attack in Barcelona and  Cambrills, as well as in Surgut that happened during the same weekend.

The truth is there does not seem to be any direct, special guideline connected with operations specifically against women in Europe[3]. Nevertheless, there was a call by Daesh for a terrorist attack during the European Women’s Championship football match in Galgenwaard Stadium in Utrecht on July 19th[4]. Was it just the wish of the organization to attack a sports event, with lots of spectators, or was there also the parameter of gender that was considerd? Thus, it does make sense for research to be conducted focusing on wether there are “lone wolves” and perpetrators inspired by the ideology of the islamist terror network and acting in Europe, who have started to choose specifically to victimize women, because of this extremist ideology they have been radicalized into.

Usually when we discuss gender in terrorism, we do so in the context of women as possible perpetrators. So we deal with the “rules” and ideology of an organization that allows or prohibits the operational involvent of women in terror activity. The notion of a female terrorist still is somehow sensational for the media and society, because of the stereotype of women who are perceived by many to be submisive and less violent. Or, we tend to speak about the role of women in radicalization processes, especially with regard to motherhood, the birth and upbringing of children-the future generation of terrorists. And of course there is the phenomenon of the “jihadi bride” that has attracted a lot of attention from journalists and scholars, because there is need to understand why women and even girls would leave Europe in order to go to a war zone and become wives of jihadists, living in a completely different environment with respect to women’s rights and equality.

It could be the case though, that we should start analyzing gender and more specifically how women are viewed by terror groups as victims. We know that Daesh has treated women “of the enemy” in the Middle East in a most appauling way, that has included also rape and sexual slavery. Unless a woman conforms to islamist standards, she deserves to be subjected to inhuman treatment and to be victimized in ways that affect both her body and soul. The supporters of Daesh ideology in Europe come across everyday women who express “apostasy” from the correct way of life, always according islamists: they walk around with their heads uncovered, they can dress as they wish (and even “provocatively”), they can study, they can work in any profession, they can earn money and spend it as they like, they don’t have a “guardian” to protect their honour, they can speak their opinion and they can engage in premarital relationships, have children outside of wedlock and have an active sex life. All of the above are more than enough for islamists to perceive european women as “immoral’ and a sign of the corrupted and decadent way of life in Europe.

As experts analyze the patterns and operational attack trends of the islamist terror network in Europe, the stabbings Marseille (and possibly Turku) must not be neglected. If women have been targeted on purpose, then this choice and what is expresses can help us understand more clearly the way islamist operatives in Europe think. Moreover, if this choice in violence is connected with unacceptance of the role of women in european societies, then this describes also unacceptance of very basic foundations of the european way of live, values and social standards. It can serve as an index of advanced radicalization and lack of integration[5] that must be taken in to account in order to understand the whole phenomenon. Additionally, in order to practically safeguard security and take effective measures to prevent and counter terror attacks, it is essential to understand how terrorists pick their targets and their victims and  if gender is part of the plan.

[1]    For an account of the event,


[3]            Actually there is more of a call and instigation to kill indiscriminately people, including “women and children”, without exception. And in this case, the reference to women along with children is because they are considerd as fragile, helpless and defenseless parts of population. This kind of calls aim to magnifiy the fear Europeans should feel. Not even “women and children” will be spared by the “soldiers’ of daesh that won’t show mercy, not even to “women and chiildren”.


[5]    Information about the perpetrator’s relationship to women and relevant bio details can be very useful too.