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UAE female fighter pilot bombing IS militants wins fans online

Photo: AFP, WAM

The news that an Emirati woman was among the pilots carrying out airstrikes on Islamic State militants in Syria garnered wide media attention on Wednesday, turning Mariam al Mansouri into an overnight star on social networks.


“Take that, sexist terrorists! UAE ladies raining down equality from above” said @ArabScarab, an Abu Dhabi-based foreign policy professor, on her Twitter account on Thursday.

The tribute on the popular social media network referred to reports that Major Mariam Al Mansouri, the first woman to join the Emirati Air Force, was the team leader in at least one US-led coalition airstrike against jihadists in Syria on Wednesday.

Virtual applause for Mansouri has taken off on sites like Twitter as international support for a military intervention against the Islamic State (IS) militant group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, grows.

Five Arab allies, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, have joined the United States in hitting IS group targets from the skies in Syria and Iraq.

The disclosure that one of the pilots leading the air assault against the religious fundamentalists was a woman seemed like providence for many observers, following reports from the United Nations and Amnesty International that the IS group was behind widespread acts of sexual violence against women and teenage girls belonging to Iraqi minorities.

“Hey Isis. You were bombed by a woman, have a nice day” Oula Abdulhamid, an analyst at the Washington Institute thinktank published on her Twitter account, adding: “Take that #ISIS! #MariamMansouri.”

Overnight raids largely targeting oil fields controlled by the IS group killed 14 jihadists and five civilians, according to a London-based The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group on Thursday.

The Pentagon confirmed that the strikes, which also hit an IS group checkpoint, involved aircraft from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Afraid of women warriors?

Mansouri’s story has also garnered special attention because of claims that jihadists were enraged by the possibility they could be killed by a woman, thus allegedly preventing them from reaching paradise.

According to Koranic scripture, jihadists who die in battle can expect to be rewarded with virginal servants in paradise, but rumours say there was uncertainty among Islamic fighters about their fate if they died at the hands of a woman.

FRANCE 24 journalist Wassim Nasr, an expert in jihadist movements, said IS militants were completely unconcerned about the sex of their enemies and reports that jihadists were petrified of woman soldiers were unfounded.

“IS fighters couldn’t care less if their enemy is a man or a woman. In fact, the group has its own all-women brigade that is employed to police other women civilians,” Nasr said. “Although it’s true they would never allow a woman to go to the frontline.”

Taking to the skies

Mansouri, 35, was born in Abu Dhabi, as one of eight children in her family, and earned a university degree in English literature.

She jumped at the chance of joining Khalifa bin Zayed Air College when authorities opened its doors to women and graduated in 2007. She is now considered a veteran fighter pilot, working with F-16 warplanes, according to the National of UAE media outlet.

In May she won the prestigious “Pride of the Emirates Medal,” bestowed by UAE authorities on members of federal agencies for excellence in their specific fields.

As coalition airstrikes against the IS group intensify, Mansouri could become an even more important symbol of Arab women combating religious extremism, as well as the target of jihadists’ fury.

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