A woman accused of helping recruit dozens of female suicide bombers looked into the camera and described the process: trolling society for likely candidates and then patiently converting the women from troubled souls into deadly attackers.
The accounts, in a video released Tuesday by Iraq police, offer a rare glimpse into the networks used to find and train the women bombers who have become one of the insurgents’ most effective weapons as they struggle under increasing crackdowns.
In a separate prison interview with The Associated Press, with interrogators nearby, the woman said she was part of a plot in which young women were raped and then sent to her for matronly advice. She said she would try to persuade the victims to become suicide bombers as their only escape from the shame and to reclaim their honor.
The AP was allowed access on condition the information would not be released until the formal announcement of the arrest.
The U.S. and Iraqi militaries have made past claims without providing much evidence about efforts by insurgents to recruit vulnerable women as well as children as attackers. Those included statements by the Iraqis that two women who blew themselves up last year in Baghdad had Down’s Syndrome, accounts that were not supported by subsequent investigations.
It also was not possible independently to verify the claim that insurgents sent out people to rape women who could then be recruited as bombers in the volatile Diyala province northeast of Baghdad.
But the suspect, 50-year-old Samira Ahmed Jassim _ who said her code name was “The Mother of Believers” _ has given unusual firsthand descriptions of the possible workings behind last year’s spike in attacks by women bombers.
The Iraqi military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, said the suspect had recruited more than 80 women willing to carry out attacks and admitted masterminding 28 bombings in different areas.
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Female suicide bombers attempted or successfully carried out 32 attacks last year, compared with eight in 2007, according to U.S. military figures. Most recently, a woman detonated an explosive under her robes that killed at least 36 people during a Shiite religious gathering last month.
The attacks reflected a shift in insurgent tactics: trying to exploit cultural standards that restrict male security forces from searching women and use the traditional flowing robes of women to hide bomb-rigged belts or vests.
In response, Iraqi security forces have tried to recruit more women. In last week’s provincial elections, women teachers and civic workers helped search voters.
Al-Moussawi, the military spokesman, alleged Jassim was in contact with top leaders of Ansar al-Sunnah in Diyala, the last foothold of major Sunni insurgent strength near Baghdad. The group is one of the factions with suspected ties to al-Qaida in Iraq.
Al-Moussawi said Jassim “confessed to recruiting 28 female suicide bombers who carried out terrorist operations in different areas.” He gave no other details on the locations or dates of the attacks.
In the video played for reporters, Jassim described how she was approached by insurgents to urge women to carry out suicide attacks. She said her first assignment was Um Hoda, a nickname meaning mother of Hoda.
“I talked to her a number of times,” said Jassim, who has four daughters and two sons. “I went back to them and gave them the details on her. And they told me, bring her to us. … And I took her to the police station, and that’s where she blew herself up.”
Another woman, whom she called Amal, was involved in long conversations, Jassim said.
“I talked to her many times, sat with her, and she was very depressed,” she said on the video. “I took her to them, and then went back for her and she blew herself up.”
Jassim gave no further information on the attacks or her role in the video.
In speaking with the AP _ a week after her Jan. 21 arrest _ Jassim repeated statements she had allegedly made to interrogators that insurgents organized rapes of women and that she would then try to coax the victims to become suicide bombers.
She said she was “able to persuade women to become suicide bombers … broken women, especially those who were raped.”
In many parts of Iraq, including conservative Diyala, a rape victim may be shunned by her family and become an outcast in society.
Police interrogators were not in the room during Jassim’s interview with the AP, but they were in an adjoining chamber.
Jassim did not offer additional details on her alleged role in the attacks, but suggested she was pressured into working with the insurgency.
She claimed that Ansar al-Sunnah provided her a house in Diyala, where she operated a shop selling the traditional robes for women called abaya. She added, however, that Ansar al-Sunnah once threatened to bomb her house if she did not cooperate.
“I worked with (Ansar al-Sunnah) for a year and a half,” she told the AP.
Women suicide bombers are uncommon, but not unknown, outside Iraq.
Among Palestinians, several woman have carried out suicide bombings for militant groups including Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
There also have been cases of women in the West Bank attacking Israeli soldiers so they can be imprisoned after being accused of breaking traditional rules on sexual conduct. In the Palestinian territories, relatives can seek harsh punishments, including death, on women seen as dishonoring the family.