DUBAI: A female pilot has led United Arab Emirates airstrikes that targeted Islamic State jihadists in Syria as part of the U.S.-led campaign against extremists.
Major Mariam al-Mansouri, 35, “led the squadron” of UAE fighter jets that participated in raids Tuesday against the extremists, an Emirati source familiar with the matter said.
The source said a “coalition of Western officers was surprised when she called in to refuel from an aerial tanker.”
The UAE did not confirm officially that a woman was among the pilots that conducted the raids.
Mansouri is reportedly the UAE’s first female jet fighter pilot. She graduated from Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa bin Zayed Air College in 2007 and is veteran pilot of F-16 warplanes.
Washington has said the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Jordan took part in the strikes on the Islamic State, which has seized swathes of Iraq and northern Syria.
Saudi Arabia released photographs Wednesday of eight airmen it said were involved in Tuesday’s U.S.-led operations, with the Saudi press saying one of the pilots was a son of Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz.
Mansouri’s participation in the raid stirred a debate on social media networks, with supporters posting her picture on Twitter and commending her service.
“She is taking part in crushing the dens of Daesh,” wrote one woman on Twitter, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
But angry Islamist sympathizers denounced what they said was Mansouri’s “criminal” act.
In a past interview with Abu Dhabi television, Mansouri spoke of equality between men and women.
“Men and women have the right to practice any profession, with dedication and determination… to reach the highest positions possible to serve this homeland,” she said.
The UAE is a largely conservative Gulf state, where women citizens wear the traditional Islamic head cover and loose black abaya (cloak).
But authorities in the oil-rich state have made efforts to put pioneering women forward and many women have assumed top government positions.