By Paul Sperry

When a bewildered Iraqi woman named Sajida al-Rishawi confessed on Jordanian state television last week that she had been part of the team that tried to blow up the Radisson Hotel in Amman, she showed that Iraq has become a base from which al Qaeda launches attacks against its enemies and that suicide terrorism may be the one area in Mid-East culture where fundamentalist Muslim women are finally gaining equality with men.

Wearing her defused bomb belt, which failed to detonate when the three other members of her team blew themselves up along with members of a Jordanian wedding party, al-Rishawi called into question the idea that Muslim women are little more than veiled victims of a brutal misogynistic culture and that their only connection to terror is as bystanders. While no female Muslims here in the U.S. have blown up passenger jets as they have in Russia, or strapped on belts packed with TNT and ball bearings to blow up American hotels, as an older Iraqi woman has confessed to doing in Jordan, law enforcement has uncovered a disturbing number of cases in which they have helped Muslim men with terrorist plots or have planned to attack fellow Americans themselves.

Here are a few examples, some of which have never been revealed:

  • Earlier this year, the FBI arrested two teenage Muslim girls in Manhattan on suspicion they planned to attack U.S. targets as suicide bombers. The 16-year-old girls wore veils and regularly attended mosques.
  • Last year, a Pakistani woman who worked for years at EPA headquarters as a toxicologist was arrested after authorities learned she not only lied about being a U.S. citizen, but also ran a charitable front for al Qaeda back in Peshawar, Pakistan. A mother of four, Waheeda Tehseen lived comfortably in the same leafy neighborhood as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, according to law enforcement documents I’ve obtained. She was “very devout,” but fellow EPA scientists found her religious beliefs quaint and completely nonthreatening, and even unwittingly helped her raise money for Osama bin Laden.
  • Authorities are still looking for another Pakistani woman who they believe to be a “fixer” for al-Qaida in the U.S. MIT-educated Aafia Siddiqui is said to have been involved in a plot to blow up underground gas tanks around Baltimore. The mother of three is known as a “good sister” who has memorized her Quran and is willing to help al Qaeda out when they need her. She was a hard-line Muslim activist on the MIT campus, where she wore head-to-toe traditional black gown and matching headscarf while raising money for jihadists around the world. The Bostonians she ran into outside that circle of hate, however, knew her only as a soft-spoken “philanthropist.”
  • Two months ago, federal agents in Dallas accused three Muslim women of lying to the government to conceal their involvement in their husbands’ criminal support of outlawed terrorists. Fay Elashi, for one, allegedly tried to hide from investigators checks and financial records bearing the names of the terrorists.
  • Last year, authorities in Baltimore spotted the wife of suspected Hamas operative Ismail Elbarasse videotaping the Chesapeake Bay Bridge from an SUV they were driving. The couple was taken into custody and their camcorder tape seized as evidence. On it, authorities found close-up shots of cables and supports “integral to the structural integrity of the bridge,” according to court documents. Six other tapes found in their car contained footage of four other bridges and other structures they believed to be targets. Authorities concluded Elbarasse’s wife was helping conduct “reconnaissance and surveillance” for a possible terrorist attack during rush hour.
  • They are not the only potential targets Muslim women have been casing in the Washington area. Not long after it set up headquarters in Crystal City, Va., not far from the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security asked the Secret Service to conduct countersurveillance of suspicious Muslim women who were videotaping the building on a regular basis.

Prolonged static surveillance using operatives who look harmless and don’t attract police scrutiny is the hallmark of al Qaeda, which does painstaking pre-attack planning. Through its websites, al Qaeda regularly encourages the faithful who are “far from the fields of jihad” to research the soft spots and weaknesses “of the American infidel crusaders” and report back locations and images of vulnerable structures — from bridges and pipelines to military installations and financial buildings — which might be suitable for attack.

According to the Quran, jihad is not something a Muslim can opt out of. It demands able-bodied believers to join the fight. Those unable — largely women and the elderly — are not exempt; they must give “aid and asylum” to those who do fight the unbelievers in the cause of Allah. Such facilitators are promised the same reward of Paradise, although not the same status as jihadists who give their pound of flesh to Allah. And those who die in his cause — the shaheeds, or martyrs — are reserved the highest place in the Paradise hierarchy.

Increasingly, however, Muslim women are taking on the role of martyr, though no one is rethinking the profile just yet. To be sure, Muslim women are a long way from fitting the profile of the suicide bomber, which is still predominantly young, Muslim and male.

But the Department of Homeland Security issued warnings to law enforcement to be on the lookout for suspicious Muslim women after Chechen terrorists used young Muslim women as suicide bombers to attack Russian targets a couple of years ago. And they are on alert again after al Qaeda, in an effort to lower its male profile and bypass security, apparently enlisted an older Muslim woman to help carry out the recent bloody attacks on American hotels in Jordan.

According to Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir, who has interviewed bin Laden, there is a ready supply of female jihadists in his country alone who would be thrilled to help al Qaeda.

“Our women are more extremist than the men,” he said in a recent magazine interview. “There are hundreds here.”