The Niqab and Burqa as Security Threats

by Daniel Pipes
Sat, 4 Nov 2006
updated Sat, 3 May 2008


I wrote a week ago, in a blog for National Review Online, that the niqab and burqa should both be banned on security grounds, “as one cannot have faceless persons walking the streets, driving cars, or otherwise entering public spaces.” Although a problem with historic roots (Iraqi irregulars disguised themselves in the Palestinian town of Deir Yassin in 1948), this blog will document the current dangers, especially in the West, of the burqa and niqab as a disguise.

Mesmerising yashmak gang: This first incident is perhaps the oddest of all. I quote from the “British Muslims Monthly Survey,” which got this incident from the Chingford Guardian of October 8, 1998:

Two thefts in Chingford and Walthamstow have been blamed on “mesmeric Muslims.” At an off-licence in Walthamstow, two women wearing yashmaks with two children, asked for a bottle of Bacardi and sweets. They gave the owner of the shop a £50 note, which he changed. They then said they did not want the drink and asked for their money back. The owner of the shop said his mind went blank and he gave them the £50 note and an additional £10 note. He said: “I was just frozen and had no idea where I was. I have never known anything like that in my 16 years in the business. There was some sort of spell on me.” Later the same day, in Chingford, a similar event took place at a music shop where the owner returned the £50 note plus an additional £20 note.

(October 1998)

Jewelry theft in London: Two robbers, male and female, stole £200,000 worth of jewelry from the exclusive Ramot on Sloane Street in Knightsbridge by wearing burqas into the store. The robbers then flung open their garments to reveal guns, threatened the staff, took their keys to the display cabinets, locked the staff in a back room, and made off in a black Mercedes Benz getaway car with what Scotland Yard called “unique” gems. (March 7, 2002)

Attacking a church: Two assailants in burqas threw a grenade among worshippers at a Christmas Day service on in the village of Chianwala, northwest of Lahore, killing three and wounding thirteen. (December 25, 2002)

Burqa’ed commandos capture burqa’ed Al-Qaeda fugitive: On the plus side, a group of Pakistani commandoes disguised itself as women to wait out a ranking Al-Qaeda operative, Abu Faraj al-Libbi. And why were they in burqas? Tim McGirk of Time explains: “U.S. and Pakistani intelligence had received a tip that a suspected al-Qaeda operative would be traveling to [the town of] Mardan disguised as a burqa-clad woman. Because any plainclothesmen seen grabbing a woman would attract a hostile mob, the commandos had donned female garb and accosted the suspect as his motorcycle crossed a graveyard.” (May. 8, 2005)

Afghan suicide bombers hides under burqa: Five Afghan soldiers were killed and four wounded when a suicide bomber, whom the police think was a Taliban member, disguised himself as a woman and sat in the backseat of a car, then set off a bomb hidden under his burqa at an army checkpoint in Khost province of eastern Afghanistan. According to Mohammed Ayub, the regional police chief, “The bomber probably wanted to go into Khost city for a suicide attack there, but panicked and blew himself up when the soldiers started checking.” (February 2, 2006)

Al-Qaeda leadership in Iraq: Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, eluded Western forces over a three-year period through wiliness. In the description of Bill Powell and Scott MacLeod of Time, “al-Zarqawi was a maddeningly elusive target—a master of disguise who could pass as a woman in a burqa one day, an Iraqi policeman the next.” (June 11, 2006)

Palestinian gunmen escape Israeli forces in Gaza: The IDF suspected that Palestinian gunmen dressed up as women to escape a 19-hour standoff with the IDF that tried to dislodge them from a mosque where they were hiding. A report by Sa’id Ghazali in The Independent provides more details about women injured while taking burqas to the gunmen:

Lying in a hospital bed, covered from head toe in a black cloak, Asma Hamad, 23, said that she and two relatives were wounded while serving as human shields for dozens of fighters, who had taken refuge in neighbouring houses. The women were summoned by phone calls and local radio stations to rush to the area of the 700-year-old al-Nasr mosque.

“We went immediately to the streets,” Mrs Hamad said. “Some of us carried food, some brought traditional women’s cloaks and head covers to help the fighters. The army immediately shot at us. I was hit in my left leg.” … One woman told Maan, an independent Palestinian news agency, that she smuggled women’s clothing into the al-Nasr mosque, where the gunmen were holed up , and helped them escape in disguise.


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