Terrorist Organizations and Covid-19

Terrorist organizations see crises as great opportunities to practice their suspicious activities all over the world. The world is currently preoccupied with the pandemic and how to combat the rapidly spreading Coronavirus, which gives terrorist organizations – especially ISIS – a breathing space to resurge, free their prisoners, recruit more followers, and launch more attacks.

According to Deutsche Welle, ISIS said through one of its media platforms that the Coronavirus is a “painful suffering for the Crusader states,” referring to the states participating in the International Coalition, fighting ISIS since 2014.

“Fear threatens life and people in western countries, the western world is on the brink of an economic catastrophe, its markets are collapsing, and public life is at a standstill,” ISIS added.

The outbreak of Covid-19 and the international preoccupation to fight it, might strengthen ISIS positions, and the virus outbreak significantly affects counterterrorism operations and intelligence activities to collect information about the organization and its members, according to Deutsche Welle.

For instance, on March 29, Germany announced the partially withdrawing of its troops in Iraq, just a few days after the NATO announced that trainings of Iraqi soldiers have been halted for 60 days due to the virus outbreak.

The virus outbreak also restricts the U.S. efforts to combat ISIS in Iraq, and affects negatively the authorities’ efforts in chasing members of the terrorist group.

“The Corona pandemic drains all the concentration and sources of the western countries; thus, concentration on ISIS moves and activities has diminished”, Colin Clark, an American expert on terrorist organizations says.

“This situation is greatly benefiting ISIS, which has freedom of movement during the outbreak of the virus, ability to reorganize its ranks and recruit new followers, and perhaps also conduct terrorist operations in Iraq and Syria,” the expert adds.

ISIS may benefit of the relaxed security to release its prisoners from Iraqi and Syrian prisons, which has already happened in Syria’s al-Hassaka.

In October 2019, more than 750 ISIS members escaped from Ain Issa camp in northeastern Syria, while the Syrian Democratic Forces were busy repelling the Turkish attack on those areas, enhancing the fears that terrorists could exploit crises.

“If the virus spreads in northern Syria, the Kurds will have to focus on combating it at the expense of securing prisons where thousands of ISIS members detained, which could facilitate their escape,” Clark explains.

The threat of terrorist organizations, especially ISIS, is not limited to their presence in the Middle East only, as security services in EU countries are afraid that ISIS may exploit their absorption with the Coronavirus crisis to recruit new followers and emerge in EU, Deutsche Welle adds.

Gerhard Conrad, a German Intelligence officer, said to “Welt am Sonntag” newspaper that Covid-19 could weaken security structures particularly in badly affected countries and regions, and thus lead to a revival of terrorist networks.

“For this reason, the pressure on terrorist structures must be maintained both in Germany and worldwide, and they shall be put under watch, especially in light of the current crisis,” Conrad explains.

Bernd Schmidbauer, a former State Minister in Germany, said to the same newspaper: “I will write to the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, in the coming days, and call on her to increase the activities of the intelligence agencies,” stressing that the German Chancellor shall concentrate on amending the Federal Intelligence Service’s assignment file.

Schmidbauer confirmed that the danger of exploiting this situation by extremists or terrorists for their own goals is significant.

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