Jihadist terrorism, far from stopping, as the developed world has done during the pandemic, has increased its activity, although not in the eyes of western public opinion, concerned exclusively with COVID-19.
The increase in field operations in the Middle East, but also in Africa, and the intensive recruitment of young people online are the most exploited assets by the Islamic State (IS), Al Qaeda and its related groups during the quarantine months.
At a time of “transition” from jihadism, which had regained some power after its latest defeats, such as the fall of the IS caliphate or the death of its charismatic leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, the health crisis offers “an opportunity for absolute chaos to try to impose their agenda. “
“If we analyze the communiqués issued in the last weeks, as a result of the health emergency, we see that they are going to take advantage of the crisis”, as they already did “as a result of the so-called Arab springs, which rather turned sadly in a winter” , explains to Efe Carola García-Calvo, principal investigator of the Program of Violent Radicalization and Global Terrorism of the Real Instituto Elcano.
But circumstances have changed a lot since then and, although “it is never ruled out”, the option that the jihadist groups commit attacks like those that have been carried out until now is “very complicated, apart from punctual actions”.
The current situation imposes unfavorable conditions on the commission of a major attack in Europe: lack of crowds, physical distance and control of the streets by police and military.
Still, “the European intelligence services have not let their guard down, far from it,” Spanish colonel Pedro Baños, an expert in geostrategy, security, intelligence and terrorism, told Efe.
EXTENSION OF OPERATIONS
Global terrorism is seizing the moment to expand its operations in other parts of the world that have run out of Western soldiers, who have to deal with internal issues to the detriment of an international dimension.
Many countries have withdrawn their troops from the international coalition fighting against IS in Iraq, such as France, Germany, Canada or Spain, in addition to other places, such as the Sahel.
“There, France, for example, not only has to relocate troops for this reason, but because its military has fallen ill,” says the expert.
Its area of action are the areas where, when the pandemic arrived, jihadist terrorism “was very widespread, with Southeast Asia as an important area of activity (…) Also in Syria and Iraq with very high numbers, and Africa, not only western, but in other areas, such as the north, Libya and, especially, on the triple border between Niger, Nigeria and Mauritania. “
Baños agrees that both Al Qaeda and IS are still very active. “The IS is carrying out military operations of a certain magnitude in the specific case of Syria and Iraq, but also in parts of Africa, especially in the Sahel. Al Qaeda is also present as its affiliate in Syria,” he explains.
In this context, it is very important that international cooperation be maintained and that Western countries do not abandon nations such as Iraq, which has warned of a significant increase in the actions of IS in its territory in recent months, coinciding with a recent report. of the Pentagon in the same sense.
Only in the Iraqi Kurdish area, in the north of the country, there have been 85 attacks in the first four months of the year, with a balance of 70 dead, 161 wounded and 41 kidnapped, according to the minister of the region’s security forces . And in May the actions have increased in many areas of the country.
INCREASED USE OF INTERNET
In addition to attacks, IS has started burning cereal fields, which can reduce and even destroy crops and lead to food problems in the coming months that terrorists could exploit on social media.
This is precisely where jihadism is obtaining the greatest benefit from the pandemic: the hardening of its speech, with its message that COVID-19 is “a punishment from Allah”, aimed at recruiting future warriors, explains García-Calvo.
Baños also refers to the messages launched by jihadism that the pandemic “is a punishment for having been bad believers” and in which “they are glad that this capitalist or mercantilist free trade system is being harmed”, which they consider “the enemy”.
In this context, the recruitment of potential combatants is an absolute priority at a time when Internet use has exploded.
“In terms of radicalization, the social distance imposed on us means that many young people, who are now their main objective (and the figures tell us that they are the most vulnerable group for recruitment), spend more hours on the computer and that this means be used to spread his message more and more in order to radicalize young people around the world. “
According to the international coalition in Iraq, in March and April 6,000 Twitter accounts of IS affiliates were removed, a decisive task “to stop the wave of terrorism and extremism” that is currently ravaging the country.
García-Calvo also highlights that “the precariousness of the states and their health and social care systems” in many of the countries where terrorism currently hits the most “are holes that can be used by these organizations.”
“From a welfare perspective they can also win the minds and hearts of their potential new recruits,” stresses the expert.