Women are the new target for recruitment for the Islamic State (IS), with researchers seeing "unprecedented" calls for fighters to marry British and European women.
The women, some just teenagers, are bombarding IS fighters with marriage proposals during social media 'Q&As' and researchers estimate as many as 50, most of them British, could have already gone to join fighters in Syria and Iraq.
Four women from the UK have been identified by experts for the first time this week, though they are believed to have been in Syria together since early this year and tweet in English from the country.
"We found a gang of four girls who appear to be living near each other in Raqqa [an IS stronghold which is the town closest to where US journalist James Foley was beheaded]," said Melanie Smith, a research associate at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), King's College, who monitors the recruitment of women by Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS.
"Usually, it is hard to tell if they are British, if they tweet in English, but these girls were using particularly British slang. We don't know where they are from but they have been there since around February, and they don't appear to have known each other before they went out.
"Typically, the women who are out there tend to form clusters, they might be married to Isis fighters in the same unit."
When the first calls were issued by rebel fighters for Muslims to come to Syria, women were explicitly told not to come, according to Shiraz Maher, Senior Fellow at the ICSR.
"The exception has been Isis," he said. "Particularly since the declaration of the 'Caliphate', there has been an encouragement for everyone to come, along those who are particularly asking women to come are still the minority."
For the fighters to build "a functioning state", women who are loyal to the cause and ready to endure the obvious hardship of being in a war-torn land are crucial, Maher said. "There's been specific calls for doctors, engineers, lawyers to come to the 'Caliphate', and for a state to function, women need to come, they need to have children."
At the moment, researchers do not believe any of the women are actually fighting alongside the male jihadists, but Smith said that "that could change". A few local women are however fighting against Isis for the Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
"There are pictures of them with an AK47 or in tanks but so far we think that's more of a status symbol," Smith told HuffPost UK.
"Sunni jihadis have never called on women to fight, they come to be the home-front, to cook, clean and offer logistical support. They are almost all married to Isis fighters," Maher said.
And because most of the women want to be married before they take the step of going to Syria, it has led to a massive demand for matchmaking over social media.
"This is completely unique to this conflict, it is unprecedented to see girls posting requests on websites like Ask.fm to ask fighters to marry them so they can be 'part of this'," Maher said. "We've never seen that before, though we've never seen social media used to such an extent in conflict before.
"All the questions to the fighter on Twitter or Ask.fm are things like 'do any of the fighters want to get married?', 'can you arrange for a man to marry me in Turkey, so I can come over?'. But it shows us that all though there are a lot of them talking about it on social media, many aren't making that final step of going out there."
So who are some of the dozens of British women who have joined the Islamic State?
The 16-year-old schoolgirls from Chorlton, Manchester
, followed their brother who had also gone to fight in Syria.
They are now married to ISIS fighters, and told a reporter for their local paper that they spend most of their time indoors, leaving only with their husbands. Both twins, the daughters of Somali refugees, had achieved excellent GCSE results, 23 grades A*-C between them at Whalley Range High School for Girls.
A twitter account linked to one of the twins shows a woman in a burka, with an AK47. It appears the account has since been removed.
Khadijah Dare, a mother of one originally from Lewisham, has engaged in active recruitment of women for Isis. She left Britain in 2012 to live in Syria with her Swedish husband.
Writing on Twitter under her name Muhajirah fi Sham, which means immigrant in Syria, Dare praised the killing of US journalist James Foley, saying: “Any links 4 da execution of da journalist plz. Allahu Akbar. UK must b shaking up ha ha. I wna b da 1st UK woman 2 kill a UK or US terorrist!(sic)”.
In a recruitment video for the group
, the 22-year-old can be seen firing an AK47, calling on Brits to come and fight. “Instead of sitting down and focusing on your families or focusing on your studies, you need to stop being selfish because time is ticking," she said.
Umm Layth was a prolific tweeter until she was identified in the press as 20-year-old Glaswegian Aqsa Mahmood.
In her tweets, she urged Muslim men and women who could not come to fight to instead commit terrorist atrocities at home, praising the brutal murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich, the bombing of the Boston Marathon and the shooting of soldiers at Fort Hood in Texas. "If you cannot make it to the battlefield, then bring the battlefield to yourself," she tweeted.
Mahmood, who is now married to an Isis fighter, attended the prestigious Craigholme School and was studying radiography at Glasgow Caledonian University when she left for Syria. Her family reported her missing to police in November 2013.
Despite praising al Qaeda terrorists and encouraging more attacks, her tweets betray her Westernised roots. One asks for someone to "make a Hijrah [pilgrimage] from Scotland already and bring me Irn-Bru.”
She also tweeted with delight at receiving European food, including Pringles crisps and Nutella.
: Surely after difficulty there is ease *_* #5StarJihad pic.twitter.com/gp8RmWTuR9
” yep only in #shaam
— Umm Farriss (@UmmAnwar_) March 20, 2014
A close friend of Aqsa and a Brit of Somalian heritage, Khanssaa is described on Twitter as the "cook of the house" in Raqqa where several girls live. She tweets them offering up Nutella pancakes. Unlike many of the other girls who have tweeted about how their families disapprove of their mission to Syria, Khanssaa said she is following in the footsteps of her father who left her family to fight a holy war, though she does not specify where.
My father left for jihad with 3 children under the age of 4 & a wife 9 months pregnant and brothers stay behind because its hard to leave..?— أم عبيدة (@Al_Khanssaa) August 26, 2014
With the black flag of Isis as her profile picture, Umm Anwar, who also goes by the name Umm Farris, is one of the four British girls married to an Islamic State fighters who has only recently been identified by researchers.
She is believed to be based in Raqqa, and recently said she was surprised to discover a ‘Yazidi slave girl’ from Iraq in a home she visited. As well as retweeting praise for Islamic State fighters and the Caliphate, she mentions shopping and joking with her friends in the city while her husband fights.
Shopping with @GreenBirds22
in raqqah and she goes "this is racist" pic.twitter.com/CJMxTD4jfC
— Umm Farriss (@UmmAnwar_) August 28, 2014
Though much of her account extols the virtue of jihad, the third member of the British girl gang in Raqqa peppers her tweets with English slang, like ‘ain’t’ and calls her fellow ISIS wives ‘babesss’. Going under the name 'Black Banners' on Twitter, where her profile picture includes Osama Bin Laden, she suggested she is the second wife of a fighter
She tweets about being “bored” in Raqqa and asks her friends repeatedly to meet up and visit her. Her twitter also includes retweets of beautiful pictures and Vines, including a sunset at the Golden Gate bridge, San Francisco, and a comedy sketch about accidentally dropping a cookie in milk.
A close friend of Anwar, the pair joke about their shopping habits on Twitter, arrange lifts, drink smoothies and cook each other food.
Her background is unclear, but she hints that her family disapprove of her being in Syria, tweeting: “Your family will be the biggest test for you once you make Hijrāh. They're either with you or without you.”
Much of her feed consists of retweets of local fighters and of Islamic sayings, as well as graphic pictures of the dead from Iraq, Syria and Gaza.
The fourth member of the group of girls in Raqqa, who calls herself Qad Af-Iahal Shuhada, has a son with her, and is believed to be from London or the south of England, having tweeted about leaving her Oyster card in the pocket of her abaya, a type of female Muslim covering, while she put it in the watch.
A foodie, she recently retweeted a recipe for Vietnamese chicken with avocado and lemongrass spring rolls, then messaged her friend to tell her she was cooking for them. Other tweets include a picture of the girls out for dinner in Raqqa
, eating hummus and pita with chilli and vegetables.
Eating right now in raqqah mmm pic.twitter.com/fEKnO4cKjr
— Qad Af-lahal Shuhada (@Umm_Talib) August 22, 2014
One of the most prolific tweeters amongst the women in Isis is a British 18-year-old who goes under the twitter handle @UmmKhattab, who has tweeted about previously being based in the town of Manbij, close to Aleppo, tweeting sunsets from the rooftops
, but has recently moved to Raqqa.
"Best thing ive done in my 18 years in this world is come to the blessed land of shaam and leave Britain the land of kuffar," she posted in June.
And she tweeted a dim view of the UK's plan to strip returning jihadists of their citizenship. "Uk government are funny im not returning to ur dirty society which has no moral values y'all r all uncivilised and need islam to liberate u," she wrote.
The black flag is not only limited to iraq and shaam in sha Allah it shall fly over 10 downing st— :) (@UmmKhattab__) July 10, 2014
Formerly a rock musician in a local band, the 45-year-old mother-of-two from Chatham, Kent, is believed to have converted to Islam to marry a British Isis fighter Junaid Hussain. The couple are reported to have moved to Raqqa, leaving her children behind.
Her Twitter account under the name Umm Hussain al-Britani, contains threats like "You Christians all need beheading with a blunt knife and stuck on the railings at Raqqa... Come here I'll do it for you."