On Wednesday morning in a Paris suburb, a woman detonated an explosives belt she was wearing -- a first in France but part of a growing list of female suicide bombers who have carried out acts of carnage worldwide.
“The level of indoctrination and militarisation was so great that she preferred to die than be arrested,” Fatima Lahnait, author of a think-tank report on female suicide bombers, told AFP.
“Gender doesn’t matter. But the fact that it is a woman naturally increases the impact of the action on society,” added Lahnait, who wrote the report for the French think-tank CF2R.
While hundreds of women have in recent years joined jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq, few have been chosen for suicide missions.
One of them was Muriel Degauque, a Belgian woman who converted to Islam and carried out a suicide car bomb attack against a US military convoy in Iraq in 2005.
“The participation of women in these acts of carnage and devastating suffering is always met with a mixture of astonishment, revulsion of public curiosity,” said Lahnait.
“Islam formally condemns suicide in principle,” she added.
“But we see it happen regularly, notably by Lebanese, Palestinians, Chechens and Al-Qaeda supporters.” And it is not a practice restricted to those purporting to fight for an Islamic cause.
In 1985 16-year-old Lebanese Sana Mhaidly set off a car bomb against an Israeli convoy, killing herself and two soldiers, thus becoming the first in a long list of female suicide attackers in her own country.
She was later joined by women who carried out similar attacks in Israel, Turkey, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan, Chechnya and Iraq.
One of the most high profile cases was the killing of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, assassinated by a young female suicide bomber in 1991.
From Mhaidly’s act up to 2006, more than 220 woman have blown themselves up for their cause — around 15 percent of the total of recorded suicide bombings, according to Lahnait’s report.
– Threats and promises –
In November 2005, Iraqi militant Sajida al-Rishawi was part of a team which carried out coordinated bomb attacks on hotel lobbies in Amman, Jordan.
Her explosives failed to detonate but she was considered a heroine by Al-Qaeda leaders, who demanded her release.
She was executed by Jordan the day after video footage emerged of Islamic State militants burning a captured Jordanian pilot to death.
But women bombers are not always willing participants in their own deadly acts. Some are just young girls.
Jihadist group Boko Haram, which operates in and around northeastern Nigeria, has become the militant group which employs female suicide bombers most often, sending girls as young as seven to wreak havoc in crowded markets.
In such cases those attached to the suicide vests are less the bomber and more the bomb as their militant leaders detonate their explosives charges remotely, something that can be done by mobile phone.
In Maiduguri, a major town in northern Nigeria, “suicide bombs are daily occurences,” said Marc-Antoine Perouse de Montclos, a researcher with the French Institute for Research and Development (IRD).
“It is above all women and children, young girls, who threatened with death by their own husbands or fathers, die in clashes with the Nigerian army,” he said.
A threat such as the death of a parent have often been the motivator behind suicide attacks in Chechnya, the North Caucasus flashpoint where Russia has fought two messy wars against separatists.
There female suicide bombers, known as the “Black Widows”, have targeted Russian civilians and security personnel in multiple attacks.
While their male counterparts are tempted into martyrdom with the promise of paradise, including the associated 72 virgins, there are no such inducements for women.
“What they might be promised in paradise is to find a loved one, their late husband for example,” said Lahnait.