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'Jihad Jamie' and the 'black widows': Why women turn to terrorism

Statistically, women are far less violent than men. But the case of Jihad Jane's alleged conspirator, Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, and the resurgence of the black widows in Chechnya suggest that when it comes to terrorism, men and women have much in common.

By Staff writer / April 7, 2010

In this undated photo, Jamie Paulin-Ramirez is shown with her son, Christian Carreon. Ms. Paulin-Ramirez, also known as 'Jihad Jamie', was the second American arrested in a plot to kill the Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks over a 2007 sketch depicting the head of the Prophet Muhammad on a dog's body.

Courtesy of Christine Mott/AP


Two recent incidents in the United States and Russia are suggesting that, when it comes to terrorism, men and women are perhaps not as different as society might believe.

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Jamie Paulin-Ramirez last week became the second American woman to be arraigned on terrorism charges in connection with the attempted assassination of a Swedish cartoonist, following alleged co-conspirator, Colleen LaRose, also known as "Jihad Jane."

Meanwhile, the recent terror bombings in Russia suggest the resurrection of the "black widows" – female suicide bombers that sprang up a decade ago to strike back at the Kremlin's during its war against Chechnya.

IN PICTURES: American Jihadis

In the US, where women commit fewer than 10 percent of murders, the reality of female terrorists can still shock – and even more so when they come from within American borders. But the case of Jihad Jane here and the resurgence of the black widows in Russia in many ways points to the universality of the terrorist message to certain people, be they men or women, poor or middle class, young or middle aged.

"The main motives and circumstances that drive female suicide attackers are quite similar to those that drive men" – a loyalty to cause and compatriots fueled by grievances against a common enemy, researcher Lindsay O'Rourke wrote in The New York Times in 2008. "Investigating the dynamics governing female attackers not only helps to correct common misperceptions but also reveals important characteristics about suicide terrorism in general."

Why women turn to terror

This is particularly evident with the black widows. They are turning to terrorism for the same reason that men do: conditions in the north Caucasus are spiraling out of control during the Kremlin's antiterror campaign, with Russian authorities often punishing families and even whole villages suspected of aiding insurgents, experts say.