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U.S. officials suspect that al-Qaida has built a network of cells that recruit women and turn them into killers, the London Times reported Wednesday.

Women are the perfect weapon in a country where it is frowned upon for a man even to approach a woman without her husband or father in tow, let alone frisk her for weapons at one of the many checkpoints that are the bombers’ favorite targets, the Times noted. In addition, it is easy to hide a vest packed with explosives under the robes worn by Iraqi women.

According to the BBC, American military figures indicate that there have been at least 27 suicide bombings carried out by women in Iraq this year, a sharp jump from only eight in 2007.

The military believes al-Qaida employs a variety of tactics to get women to become suicide bombers. Some are easy prey because their husband or children have been killed or detained by U.S. forces, Capt. Matthew Shown, the intelligence officer for "Sabre Squadron", 2nd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, based in southeast Diyala, told the Times.

Another method is for a member of al-Qaida to marry a woman and then dishonor her in some way, such as letting someone else rape her. "This would leave her with no choice but to end her life," Shown is quoted as saying.

There are also reports of women being told that their husband or child will be killed unless they agree to become suicide bombers, the Times reported.

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