A handful of Canadian women who travelled to Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State militant group are conceiving children with IS fighters, according to researchers.
At least three Canadian women abroad have given birth over the past two years and another two are pregnant, said Amarnath Amarasingam, a researcher at the University of Waterloo who has spent years studying the issue of radicalized Western fighters.
"It kind of sounds like they are just going off to get married and live a domesticated life, but for them it's a deeply political and religious choice," Dr. Amarasingam, who is also a postdoctoral fellow at Dalhousie University, told The Globe and Mail.
"These aren't simply young infatuated girls."
Dr. Amarasingam – who obtains his information through community contacts, family members and even IS fighters themselves – said the Canadian mothers are between the ages of 19 and 22. Their goal is to "produce the next generation of fighters."
An estimated eight to 12 young Canadian women have travelled abroad from Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta to join IS in recent years, crossing into Syria and Iraq from the Turkish border, he said. Most have Middle Eastern and South Asian backgrounds.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale was in Washington on Tuesday for meetings with his intelligence counterparts from the Five Eyes alliance to discuss, in broad terms, radicalization and foreign fighters. He is said to be looking into the issue of Canadian women joining IS.
"Individuals who radicalize to violence, including those who return home after travelling abroad to take part in extremist activities, are a serious security threat to Canada," Mr. Goodale's spokesman, Scott Bardsley, wrote in an e-mail.
He added that the government will create both a community outreach office and counterradicalization co-ordinator to identify and prevent those at risk of radicalization.
"The most effective means of prevention begins in the community and involves working with leaders to develop early intervention programs," he said.
Conservative MP Erin O'Toole said there needs to be an investigation into why the women left Canada and if anyone helped facilitate their travel. The NDP's Hélène Laverdière believes the government should provide an update on radicalization in Canada and a concrete plan to fight it.
Dr. Amarasingam said family members in Canada have asked that their names, and those of the women in question, be kept private.
It is illegal to leave Canada to commit certain terrorism offences or facilitate terror activities, but it is unclear if the women would be charged for living in IS-held territory if they returned. "It's a messy legal area that I don't think we've really figured out," Dr. Amarasingam said.
He said some of the women's mothers worry that sending basic supplies, even diapers, to their daughters and grandchildren abroad could be seen as propping up a terrorist organization.
While Canadian officials can prevent such travel by seizing passports and stopping people from boarding planes, Dr. Amarasingam said some girls are determined to fall through the cracks.
And there is no sense that they want to come home.
"The broader jihadi ideology gives them a sense of purpose, gives them a sense of meaning and belonging that they find lacking," he said.