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Anat Hochberg-Marom:How has COVID-19 changed the terror threat?!
Added:2021-08-14     Views:

How has COVID-19 changed the terror threat?!

By: Anat Hochberg-Marom, Ph.D

Hi everyone, thank you very much for inviting me to the 3rd International Forum on Non—Traditional Security (Hangzhou), and Zhejiang Association of Security Technology and Protection, The Center for non-Traditional Security and Peaceful Development Studies, Zhejiang University and OSS International Collaboration in conjunction with ICoCA, CGE, and Others.

It is my privilege and honor to speak here today in the forum with the theme of - “International Cooperation on Digital Security and Emergency Response In post COVID-19 Epidemic Era”, focusing on the opportunities the global pandemic provides for the terrorist and extremist organizations across the world.

During this year, in which we have been preoccupied with the coronavirus pandemic the curve of international terrorist attacks has been flattened, probably, as the result of the –

· travel and movement restrictions

· social distancing measures

· lockdowns associated with the COVID-19

However, despite the reduction in terrorist incidents, the real threat is here, and it is the increase in radicalization and violent extremism, which potentially exacerbated their drivers. Radicalization is defined as a dynamic process influenced by personal and contextual factors by which individuals and groups adopt extremist worldviews, radical ideas and values, that deviate sharply from those of mainstream society, justify and encourage the use of violence and terrorist activity to challenge the status-quo and achieve their political goals.

The radicalization trajectories of any given individual are influenced by multiple factors, such as –

· Political climate and governance

· social marginalization

· Poverty and unemployment

· Religious teachings and

· Feelings of alienation, rejection and despair

as well as other contextual circumstances, such as international events, and the role of the internet and social media.

As witnessed recently, aside from the increase in socio-economic distress due to the social distancing restrictions and high rate of unemployment, one of the major implications of the global pandemic is the failure or inability of government to act, which may lead not only to a reduction of trust in and legitimacy of governments and political systems, but also to an increase in number of extremist groups, which fill the governance vacuum, and immerse themselves into local communities. These contextual circumstances exacerbate vulnerabilities and create fertile soil for radicalization, in which susceptible individuals and captive audiences are receptive to extremist messaging and simple “black and white” solutions offered by extremists

Indeed, radical, extremist and terrorist groups of all stripes including Islamic, Far right, Supremacists and neo-Nazis groups exploit people’s fears, anxiety, confusion and frustration to further their own radical ideas/worldviews, and adapt their activities and narratives to attract followers and radicalize new recruits, thus broadening their base support. Therefore, the coronavirus may result in spreading of radicalization and violent extremism which ultimately lead to the proliferation of terrorist activity and threat.

Latest publications show the extent to which ISIS exploits the COVID-19 and the reduction of police and local security to expand its operations in Afghanistan, West Africa and Central Africa, Egypt and Yemen, and regaining strength by launching attacks that increased in 200 percent in Iraq and nearly 70 percent in Syria. In addition, recent report of the UN counter-terrorism committee on COVID-19 implications described how radicals and extremist groups exploit the “captive” audiences including over 1 billion students spending time on the internet, and utilize social media to spread their radicalizing values and narratives; undermine state authority; spread disinformation; encourage execution of terror attacks; seeking “attention-grabbing” targets like the attack of hospital in last May in Afghanistan.

Other example can be seen following the implementation of lockdown and social distancing measures in the United States. For 10 days there has been a 21% average increase in engagement with extremist content, and according to London-Based Institute for strategic Dialogue, Telegram channels associated with White supremacy and racism Grew up by more than 6,000 users over the month of March and White supremacists channel specifically focused on messaging related to COVID-19, growing its user base, by 800%.

So, to summer-up, although it is too early to fully assess the implications of the coronavirus pandemic on terrorism, there are already strong indications that this crisis has exacerbated existing drivers of radicalization and facilitated its spread across the world. Therefore, it is high time for governments to co-operate, share knowledge and capabilities, and allocate more attention and massive resources to counter- and de-radicalization efforts.

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