TORONTO — The Toronto woman who Tweeted so sympathetically about ISIS probably had no idea that, when she left Canada late last year, she was being tracked by researchers following her movements using geocoding.
But every time she posted a Tweet, she was inadvertently giving away her location, allowing the researchers to map her as she travelled from the ISIS capital in Raqqah, Syria to the front lines in Kobani and Mosul.
“I did not see in their actions anything but the utmost of respect for me as a sister,” she wrote in Arabic from Kobani on Dec. 25. In another Tweet, she wrote: “God bless those who live on His path and who die on His path.”
By failing to turn off the locator on her cellphone, she not only left an incriminating electronic trail, she also highlighted a disturbing trend: Canadian women are increasingly involved in supporting the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.
While most of the Canadians who have either left to join ISIS or who have been stopped by police en route are men, some are women. ISIS prohibits women from taking part in combat, so their roles are limited to serving as “jihadi brides.”
A report released Wednesday by the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue said that about 550 of the 3,000 Western citizens in ISIS territory are women. The study looked at the social-media profiles of several women in ISIS, one of them a Canadian.
It found the women were motivated by extremist ideology that portrays Muslims as victims of oppression, depicts such Western countries as Canada as sinful, and claims it is their religious duty to populate the “pure” Islamic state.
“Female migrants are not just rejecting the culture and foreign policy of the West; they are also embracing a new vision for society. They hope to contribute to this society, governed by a strict interpretation of Shariah law,” it said.
Even given their limited, mostly domestic roles, the women pose a security threat. They not only support ISIS atrocities, but actively promote them online. “Perhaps the most important risk is that the female migrants can inspire others, both men and women, to carry out attacks in Western countries or to travel to Syria and Iraq.”
On her Twitter page, the Toronto woman uses an image of an ISIS beheading as her banner photo. She was identified by the Waterloo, Ont.-based intelligence research company iBRABO, which made international headlines earlier this month when it pinpointed the whereabouts of Mark Taylor, a New Zealander, in ISIS.
Both were tracked using geocoding. “If you don’t turn that off then every time you Tweet it basically broadcasts your location at the same time, and with some of the fighters that are over there in Syria and Iraq you can actually follow them from that,” said Jeff Weyers, the iBRABO senior research analyst.
The results were to be published today by the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC) in an article that notes that the woman — identified only as “L.A.” — had enjoyed remarkable access, visiting virtually every major centre controlled by ISIS.
“One of the speculations is she’s either shacked up with or is kind of being escorted by somebody that would be relatively high up in ISIS, just for the amount of travel and the types of areas that she’s getting to,” said Mr. Weyers, who co-wrote the article and is a doctoral candidate at the University of Liverpool.
According to the article, she was in Toronto on Nov. 23 and then reappeared in Raqqah on Dec. 8. Two weeks later, she was in Kobani, which ISIS was then trying unsuccessfully to capture from Western-backed Kurdish fighters.
Between Jan. 2 and 6, she was in Dier Ezzor, another ISIS stronghold, before turning up in Mosul, Iraq on Jan. 9. Curiously, she then spent five days (Jan. 11 to 16) in Aleppo, which is not controlled by ISIS but rather by the Syrian regime, opposition and Kurdish forces.
“While in Aleppo she spends all of her time in territory controlled by ISIS’s enemies,” the TRAC article notes. “Given her previous trip to Mosul and her attendance directly in Aleppo, a reasonable inference would be that L.A. may have again been facilitating surveillance for ISIS during her time in Aleppo.”