News of the arrival of three British girls in Raqqa has set tongues wagging in the Islamic State (Isis) stronghold. People have begun to gossip, with reports suggesting that the girls have been seen in one of the IS camps, training in weapons and studying Islamic Sharia law.
A rumour is spreading that one of the girls was a friend of Mohammed Emwazi, the British executioner widely known as Jihadi John, and that Emwazi was in Raqqa on the day the three girls arrived. This is very dangerous, as the three British girls are as young as 18.
Yet, while news of the three British schoolgirls flying to Syria has caused a sensation in the UK, in reality the issue of foreign fighters is not a new one for Raqqa: indeed some of IS's most dedicated militants are, and always have been, women.
Since IS took complete control of the city of Raqqa, many groups and brigades have been formed, and perhaps the most significant is the sinister al-Khansa brigade, which contains only female members. Their mission is to pursue and arrest local women who break the laws of IS in Raqqa province. The women take the names of those women who flout the rules and their harassment has led to several arrests.
At first, the brigade was made up of female foreign fighters, and some of Arab nationality, with just a few Syrian women thrown in as well. Yet the al-Khansa brigade has grown dramatically since then. In fact it is thought that 25 European women now swear allegiance to the militia unit.
These women were lured through the internet, by fighters already part of IS. The fighters build contact through Twitter, speaking of a promised Caliphate as well as money, prosperity, marriage and a life of freedom. The recruiters also send pictures and videos that prove - to an extent - the truth of their words.
Into the heart of darkness
Following the successful sales pitch, the recruits travel to Turkey and head south, close to the Turkish-Syrian Tel Abyad border crossing, which IS controls. They are then moved into the country by people within IS, who are based in Turkey and assigned to this mission, after liaising with the numerous people whose job it is to smuggle fighters illegally across the borders.
Then, finally, the journey begins through the Isis corridors, and they reach their destination. Firstly one of the IS 'Amirs' gives them money, and provides them with food and a home. They then take a course entitled 'studies in Islamic Sharia Law', and a weapons training course; even though women don't join their male counterparts in battles, they can support the cause by hassling women as part of the the al-Khansa brigade, and can even join the Sharia court or the Islamic police.
Samah Al-Ahmad, a 23-year-old from Raqqa, says that foreign female fighters are swarming all over Raqqa and the al-Khansa brigade is burgeoning as scores of foreign fighters arrive to join Isis with their wives. In other cases the foreign female fighter marries an Isis militant on her arrival, and there are many known cases of militants marrying three, or even four women.
Samah also adds that, now that IS has used all available means to entice extremist male fighters from around the world, they are doing the same thing with women and girls who may harbour extremist thoughts.
The girls may think of it as an adventure, but in reality it may cost them their lives.
Additional reporting by Arij Limam.