Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 9 July 2020

CORONAVIRUS

Extremists could fill gap if world fails Covid-19 test, study finds

Research draws on statements of terrorist groups seeking to capitalise on pandemic

A French Army soldier patrols a rural area during its ongoing operation against Islamist militants in the Sahel region. AFP
A French Army soldier patrols a rural area during its ongoing operation against Islamist militants in the Sahel region. AFP

Extremists may fill the vacuum if governments around the world fail to get to grips with the coronavirus pandemic, a UK government-funded study has warned.

Lockdowns and other restrictions may provide a “captive audience ripe for radicalisation”, according to the paper which looks at the potential links between Covid-19 and violent extremist recruitment.

The paper is the latest to warn of links between increasing extremism and the pandemic as governments struggle with the impact of the crisis. The paper warns those at risk or radicalisation are filling more time online and in chat rooms where they are susceptible to misinformation and targeting by terrorist recruiters.

With government attention focused on dealing with the crisis, the paper warned that the pandemic may allow for terrorists to plan opportunistic attacks.

The limiting of personal freedoms have been seized on by radical ideologues to validate their world views, the paper says. The closure of mosques in Nigeria “have been framed as evidence of anti-Islam sentiments in government”, it said.

“The failure or inability of government to reach certain areas or groups may lead to a void in which violent extremists may step,” it said.

“As shown, in certain areas of the Sahel, such groups have provided services and acted as the de facto authority in contexts where national government is absent.

“This may contribute to a sense that national authorities should no longer be considered legitimate given their inability to act.”

The paper warned that the longer-term impact of Covid-19 could depend on the scale of the economic downturn.

“As the burden of the coronavirus pandemic spreads further and penetrates the countries of the Sahel more deeply, the potential for terrorist groups to continue to exploit weak points to gain support and strength will increase,” it said.

The report was produced as part of a five-year project to allow UK overseas development policy to adapt to changing circumstances.

The paper - The COVID-19 pandemic and response on violent extremist recruitment and radicalisation - cited the US-based Soufan Center, a global security thinktank, which has suggested that the pandemic could provide “devastating opportunities” for extremists from across the board to recruit.

ISIS and Al Qaeda have both issued statements urging their supporters to exploit the situation for recruitment, planning and carrying out attacks.

German prosecutors said in April they had arrested four members of an ISIS cell that was plotting to attack US military bases in the country. A fifth man, the alleged leader, was arrested last year, according to German media reports.

ISIS also told its followers to stay away from Europe, identified by the World Health Organisation on March 13 as the epicentre of the epidemic. It instead urged its followers in Iraq and Syria to free ISIS prisoners held in camps.

Updated: May 31, 2020 03:51 PM

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