Warnings on Covid-19 pandemic and terrorism
Corona virus has exposed the fragility of humankind and since the beginning of the pandemic many experts warned that it would increase the threat of violent extremism and provide new opportunities for the Daesh terrorist group, Al Qaeda and their affiliates as well as neo-Nazis, white supremacists and hate groups.
Secretary-General António Guterres said the pandemic was more than a global health crisis. “It is a game-changer for international peace and security” “The warning lights are flashing”, he said, pointing out that as the virus is “exacerbating grievances, undermining social cohesion and fueling conflicts”, it is also likely to “act as a catalyst in the spread of terrorism and violent extremism”.
Moreover, international tensions are being driven by supply chain disruptions, protectionism and growing nationalism – with rising unemployment, food insecurity and climate change, helping to fuel political unrest.
In an interview published in the CTC Sentinel journal, Gilles de Kerchove, the EU counter-terrorism coordinator, voiced concern that “new forms of terrorism rooted in conspiracy theories could emerge after the coronavirus pandemic.” “We have already seen small-scale acts of violence caused by a belief in conspiracy theories – for example, against telecom masts – and given the amount of disinformation online, we could see more serious examples of this in the future,” he added, referring to vandalism by people believing 5G technology is harmful.
“Depending on how the economic crisis develops in the wake of the health crisis we are currently facing, inequality is going to be exacerbated, and this might inspire more violent left-wing extremism that could have the potential to become more lethal and more geographically dispersed than it currently is.” He continued. Coronavirus may have increased the potential for terrorists to stage mass-casualty attacks, because of a perception that police and security services are distracted and increased vulnerability to radicalisation during lockdown. “We must prevent the current health and economic crisis from becoming a security crisis as well,” he said.
Sara Khan, British human rights activist and Lead Commissioner of CCE, says: “The pandemic has not discouraged extremists from propagating their hateful ideologies. On the contrary, they have, as is always the case in a crisis, fully exploited the lockdown to promote dangerous conspiracy theories and disinformation, most notably online"
According to a report published by the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) there are some potential opportunities for terrorist actors in relation to Covid-19:
- A captive audience. The global population, including over 1 billion students no longer in full-time education, is spending more time online. The increase in the number of young people engaging in unsupervised Internet usage –particularly on gaming platforms–offers terrorist groups an opportunity to expose a greater number of people to their ideas, although the relationship between online activity and radicalization to violence is not fully understood. The reported rise in cybercrime could also lead to increased connectivity between terrorist and criminal actors.
- Furthering narratives. A wide variety of terrorist groups have already integrated COVID-19 into their narratives and propaganda, seeking to exploit current events for their own purposes and to use the pandemic to exploit divisions and weaknesses among their enemies. COVID-19 has also provided fuel for existing terrorist narratives, with tropes being repurposed to intensify hatred towards particular groups, resulting in racist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and anti-immigrant hate speech.
- Alternative service providers. The pandemic could also provide terrorist groups (particularly those operating in areas where the State’s presence is already weak or contested) with an opportunity to step up the delivery of essential services and promote the relative effectiveness of their health and social care efforts. Real or perceived failures in Member States’ COVID-19 responses have already been exploited to promote anti-State violence and accelerationist narratives, and decreased trust in the financial system has led to arise in cash withdrawals in some Member States. Any influx of cash into the informal sector could be exploited by criminal and terrorist organizations.
- The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be greater than that of any event since the Great Depression. The resulting pressure on government budgets (and the need to justify spending in policy areas with no immediate impact on public health or pandemic responsiveness) could lead to pressure to cut national counter-terrorism and CVE budgets.
Also some studies found that in developing countries, as the disease wreaks its havoc in areas poorly equipped to handle its spread, terrorism likely will increase there as well. Food insecurity – the lack of both financial and physical access to nutritious food, which leads to malnutrition and undernourishment in a population – makes people angry. Then, citizens conclude that their political leaders are either unable or unwilling to ease their suffering. This anger gives terrorist groups opportunities to recruit new members by providing them a violent outlet for venting their frustrations. In many cases, terrorist organizations do what their governments can’t or won’t do: give people the food and money they badly need to survive.