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The “Harvard of Terrorism” during the Global Pandemic

Published by IDSA on

The year is 2020. April’s Fool was just a few days ago, but it is certain that some people did not even realize it. Why?! Simply because this year has already been pulling enough “pranks” on us…

Countries around the world are scrambling to halt the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. There are now more than one million confirmed cases in at least 184 countries and nearly 60,000 people have died since the outbreak. While states are fighting against the invisible enemy, we got a reminder not to forget about the physical one, either.

terrorism chart
Terrorism Index in Afghanistan between 2002-2018 | Institute for Economics and Peace Source: Tradingeconomies

Watching the ongoing global pandemic unfold is a piercing reminder of a common conceptual metaphor – the one that says terrorism is like a serious disease, controllable but not curable. Predictably, terrorists will exploit power vacuums, chaos, unpreparedness, and basically any other opportunity to successfully infect us and our lives. Terrorist groups are blasting online propaganda messages toward followers and potential recruits which hail the calamity of the disease as divine retribution. They claim that the highly contagious and deadly virus is God’s wrath upon the West, and the disease itself is a “soldier of Allah” as one ISIS supporter recently said in an online chatroom, according to the private SITE Intelligence Group.

Terrorists of any kind should never be allowed to rest. Containment alone is not a winning strategy against ISIS, al-Qaeda, and its affiliates. Moreover, it can be more harmful if we leave them uncontested in a sanctuary, where they can continue planning their future attacks. We are facing an even bigger danger now as U.S. troops are being pulled out of Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and across Africa.

Even after numerous defeats, ISIS has proven to be capable of reconstituting. To continue with the pathological metaphor, secret cancer cells of the terrorist militant group are already metastasizing in Iraq and Syria. Its feared fighters are regrouping amid renewed instability in the region. The group has remained resilient and well-funded, with an estimated $100 million in reserves.

TOPSHOT – A member of the Iraqi forces walks past a mural bearing the logo of the Islamic State (IS) group in a tunnel that was reportedly used as a training centre by the jihadists, on March 1, 2017, in the village of Albu Sayf, on the southern outskirts of Mosul.

ISIS has told its members that their globe-spanning war is to go on, even as the virus spreads. Moreover, it has told them that the national and international security regimes that help keep the group in check are about to be overloaded and that they should take maximum advantage. This will allow the jihadists to better prepare disastrous terror attacks and escalate campaigns of insurgent warfare on battlefields worldwide. They expect that COVID-19 will preoccupy its enemies; atomize and divide them; and thus, weaken their ability and willingness to “wage war on the mujahideen”, both individually and collectively.

The global impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be felt by the fact that even the Islamic State has adopted a safety-first approach and advised its members not to travel to Europe. In the latest edition of the terrorist group’s al-Naba newsletter, the editors, who normally urged followers to carry out attacks on the Western civilizations, asked them to “stay away from the land of the epidemic” for the time being.

pandemic in the Arabic World
Medical workers oversee the disinfection of streets in order to halt the spread of the new coronavirus in Qamishli, Syria.

At the same time, there is alarming evidence that al-Qaeda affiliates and ISIS fighters are cooperating and growing even more virulent in the Sahel region of West Africa and with al-Shabab in East Africa. Not only could cutting American assistance undermine French-led counterterrorism efforts. This could also open the door to China and Russia, eager to capture every foothold that the U.S. cedes on the continent.

Along with much of Central Asia, Iran, and parts of the Middle East, Afghanistan was also celebrating the Nowruz, or also called Iranian/Persian New Year. Nowruz is a time to celebrate springtime, rebirth, and new beginnings. It definitely looked as if Afghanistan were going to see the beginning of a new period in its history after an agreement between the United States and the Taliban on the 29th of February. Critics of the deal have drawn parallels to the Nixon administration’s deal with North Vietnam, fearing a “Fall of Saigon” moment in Kabul in a matter of a few years, if not sooner, if the Taliban can overwhelm Afghan forces.

Soldiers taking a selfie
Although half of Islamic State’s foreign recruits may have been killed in action, survivors have dispersed and sprung up across the globe

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province (ISIL-KP), a branch of ISIS active in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has started ramping up its attacks in the area that “does seem to be the Harvard University of terrorism”, as President Donald Trump described it. Militants attacked a crowded Sikh temple and residential complex in Kabul, killing at least 25 people in a six-hour siege just as war-ravaged Afghanistan is beginning to combat the global pandemic. Fortunately, the UN Security Council was quick to condemn the “heinous and cowardly” terrorist attack on a gurdwara. They even underlined the need to hold the perpetrators and sponsors of these “reprehensible” acts to justice.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged warring parties across the world to lay down their weapons in support of the bigger battle against COVID-19. “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war”, he said. However, the metaphorical disease is not going to end. While it can never be fully cured, it should be relentlessly managed.

Hopefully, they could not purchase surgical face masks or any other type of masks, personal protective equipment, nor antibacterial hand gels, as scientists discovered that SARS-CoV-2 is detectable for up to 72 hours on steel. Hold your gun, and get infected on the run!


Times International Guest PosterThe author of this article was Szebasztián Simic, an undergraduate student at the University of Szeged studying for an International Relations and a Political Sciences degree.






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