Covid-19 pandemic “golden opportunity” for terror groups to fuel schemes: Study

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on October 31, 2020 Published on October 31, 2020

According to a new study, the coronavirus pandemic could be an opportunity for terror groups to fuel their “sinister schemes.”

The researchers of the study believe that the uncertainty around the coronavirus will in turn help the terror groups further their plans. This could lead to a new tide of violence against people and governments.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed Global Security: Health, Science, and Policy. The study analyzed terrorist activities and trends across the globe since the pandemic began.

Lead author Professor of Psychology Arie Kruglanski from the University of Maryland explained: "Despite the overriding media attention to the Covid-19 pandemic and its near-total eclipse of security issues, the terrorism milieu has hardly taken a pause from its deadly pursuits or suspended the execution of its plans."

The researchers noted that "far from uniting humanity against a common threat," this pandemic has enabled - or at least not stopped - a vast range of terror incidents.

These include: ISIS attacks in seven countries in March alone; the Islamic State Khorasan Province carrying out a "devastating" attack in a funeral parlor in Afghanistan (24 killed, 68 wounded); Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al Shabab organization reporting 37 attacks in Somalia and Kenya (52 dead, 35 wounded); and in Mali, al Qaeda-linked Jama'at Nasr al-Islam kidnapping a high-profile opposition leader.

Far-right extremists "have not been 'sitting idle'" either, the study stated. So far, in 2020, the far-right has been responsible for 90 per cent of terrorist attacks in the US compared to 66 per cent in 2019. This includes 50 vehicle ramming attacks since late May, targeting protesters. There have also been right-wing attacks against anti-lockdown protests in Germany.

Also, there have been concerted cyberattacks, especially targeting hospitals.

Professor Kruglanski said in a statement, “Terror organizations have used the pandemic as a golden opportunity to tie their messaging to information about the disease and intensify their propaganda for purposes of recruitment and incitement to violence."

He added, "The awe of the pandemic notwithstanding, extremist groups have not ceased sowing their own brand of horror. Far from just keeping up their activity despite the pandemic, they are using the pandemic as an opportunity to grow stronger.

He believes that the terror groups are exploiting gaps in security, and the general burdens on societies that the pandemic imposes and are pushing forward their ideologies as a cure for fear, frustration, and panic.

The researchers further added that the groups are encouraging violence-justifying narratives. These included: conspiracy theories, claims of God's vengeance against its enemies, exhortation to weaponise the virus, and taking advantage of society's weakness by "launching widespread attacks wherever and whenever possible."

The authors concluded, "Though everyone's attention is naturally drawn to the immense health and economic challenges that the pandemic poses, we cannot ignore the potential storm of intensified world terrorism that seems to be gathering in its shadows."

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Published on October 31, 2020
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