The COVID-19 pandemic introduced novel circumstances and thereby restructured the applicable security landscape overnight. Violent non-state actors rapidly reacted to these new vulnerabilities and made prompt efforts to exploit the crisis situation. Policy makers should draw lessons from these changes and take into account the mid- and long-term impact of the pandemic on extremism and terrorism.
COVID-19 had a significant impact on terrorists’ and violent extremists’ online agitation acts. The pandemic outbreak encouraged both radical Islamist and far right groups to exploit the elevated online public presence and increase their propaganda activities in the digital realm. This included bolstering their agenda, circulating conspiracy theories, inciting violence and recruiting new members.
On the battlefields, pandemic restrictions in 2020 created a paradoxical effect. In the first four and a half months after the pandemic outbreak, the jihadist threat considerably increased in the conflict zones as governments were forced to divert their resources from the battlefields to save lives and livelihoods. This reallocation resulted in novel vulnerabilities.
In addition, to minimize the risk of COVID-19 infection, international troops were withdrawn from the most critical areas. This seriously paralyzed those enhanced technical capabilities local governments were provided with in their counterterrorism efforts.
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Terrorism and the Pandemic: Weaponizing of COVID-19. Rohan Gunaratna and Katalin Petho˝-Kiss