The Al-Hol camp in the Syrian eastern province of Al-Hasakah has once again come into the spotlight. On 28 December, Syrian Kurdish security forces, supported by the United States, initiated an operation targeting a senior Islamic State (IS) official named Abu Obeida in the camp, resulting in his death.
Numerous similar security operations have been launched over the years to secure and stabilise the detention facility, housing thousands of internally displaced individuals and families of suspected IS members.
Despite these efforts, the camp has continued to experience high levels of violence and the spread of extremism among its residents.
The failure of Kurdish security efforts is largely due to an overreliance on targeting male IS leaders and operatives. Unlike in 2014, when male fighters led the militant group’s seizure of territory in Iraq, Syria and beyond, now, it is the group's female supporters who are expanding their influence.
Unless this shift is understood correctly, the group’s ascendancy inside Al-Hol and its re-emergence outside is all but guaranteed.
Historically, the role of women in violent extremist groups has been domestic and focused on supporting husbands and children. Although IS has permitted women to work, including in professions like doctors, teachers, and religious police, the group strongly encouraged most women to adhere to traditional roles within the home, especially during its peak.
Things changed dramatically after the group was territorially defeated in 2019. With male members either dead, detained or on the run, women took it upon themselves to keep the group’s ideology alive.