By Tom Whitehead, Security Editor, Telegraph
One in three jihadists leaving the UK and other nations for Syria are now women because they are being trained to fight on the frontline for the first time, the head of Europol has warned.
Rob Wainwright, director of Europe’s policing agency, said an “increasing number” of women are being radicalised by Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (Isil) but they are no longer just becoming “jihadi brides”.
There is evidence of women being trained in combat and Mr Wainwright warned that could be one of the reasons why numbers are going up.
In 2014, women were estimated to make up around one in seven of the thousands of fanatics heading for Syria and Iraq and the majority were going to be married off to jihadists.
Islamists traditionally believe a woman’s role is to keep home and have children but Europol has seen evidence that is changing.
Speaking at a conference organised by the Commons home affairs committee, Mr Wainwright said: “There is an increasing number of women who have been radicalised.
“For the first time we are seeing reports of them being trained for battlefield experience.”
He said: “A third of the outflow of jihadists to Syria and Iraq are females coming from all the prime countries.
“There are reports of different motives, some are going to engage in combat, some to be brides. It’s not one-dimensional.”
There has been a number of claims by fanatics on social media that women are involved in fighting including reports that there is an all-women unit.
The latest came last week when a Tunisian recruit claimed hundreds of women were fighting with Isil in Libya after being promoted from “wifely” duties and taught how to use weapons and carry out suicide bombings.
However, there has not been any evidence so far of British women involved on the battlefield.
Mr Wainwright also warned that there is a “very sizeable number of potential terrorists in Europe” who have returned from Syria.
At least 5000 European national foreign fighters have travelled to Syria of which around a third have returned, he told the conference. He went on: “Some are in rehabilitation programmes, some find themselves in prison. But that still leaves a very sizeable number of potential terrorists in Europe. “It leaves us with a serious terrorism threat, I think the most is the most serious that the continent has faced since the days of 9/11. “
Police warned last week that up to one in five of jihadists who have returned to the UK are considered a “high risk”.