Why young American women are joining ISIS

An estimated 4,500 Westerners have ditched home for the Islamic State or other Sunni jihadist groups in Syria or Iraq. Researchers at New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C., collected data on 474 of these cases. They found in news reports an unprecedented number of radicalized women sneaking across borders.

One in seven are women, according to a new report.

“They often appear to be typical teenagers,” said Brigitte Lebans Nacos, a political science professor at Columbia University who studies terrorism. “They ask about hair dryers. They’re looking for romance. They’re fans of ISIS, like others are fans of pop stars.”

The average age of women in New America’s data set is 21. A third of the female converts are teenagers. Many are active in jihadist Web circles, occasionally using Twitter to connect with recruiters. Others have familial ties to jihadism — relatives fighting in Syria or Iraq, a lover who’d dedicated his life to the cause.

“These women are denying being sexual objects of the West,” Saltman said. “They refuse to be objectified. They use the veil so they cannot be sexualized.”