Covid-19 virus re-energises terrorism
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- Boko Haram Boko Haram, is jihadist group based in northeastern Nigeria, also active...[+]
- Islamic State ISIS is an Islamic extremist terrorist organization controlling territory in Iraq...[+]
Not surprisingly, terrorist organisations seized on the Covid-19 crisis to ratchet up their hate speech. The pandemic was “heaven sent” to take revenge against violators of God’s law and inflict on them the worst punishment for their many sins, said Islamic State (IS) Spokesman Abu Hamza Al-Qirshi.
The virus was a “soldier” sent down to strike the tyrants of the world, goes the refrain of militant Islamist organisations keen to turn domestic public opinion against their governments and to sow anarchy and sedition. Unfortunately, the rhetoric has a market among these organisations’ sympathisers, enabling it to spread across social networking sites.
These organisations also hastened to take advantage of governments’ preoccupation with implementing the necessary measures to curb the spread of the pandemic and the need to divert large portions of their budgets into their health sectors. This helps explain the recent spike in terrorist attacks in various parts of the world and a resurgence of the organisations’ activities in areas where they had suffered debilitating setbacks.
The general panic and alarm stirred by the epidemic have simultaneously served these organisations’ recruitment drive. They know that fear, which leads people to more tightly embrace faith in times of adversary, can also render minds easier to control.
Although the government in Baghdad pronounced Iraq free of IS in 2017, and although this terrorist organisation sustained major defeats in Syria where its leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi was killed, counterterrorist authorities in both countries have failed to follow through with the operations necessary to fully eliminate terrorist lairs. As a result, IS operatives that managed to escape security forces have gone underground, creating sleeping cells and finding places of refuge in remote and less policeable areas.
They were drawn in particular to areas characterised by conflict, high levels of social polarisation, regional and international tugs-of-war, instability and poor states of security, high poverty rates and low standards of living, poor social services and other such conditions. There they could resume their activities as they won over local populaces by offering social services, and they could recruit youth from the armies of unemployed which have swelled as a result of the economic repercussions of the coronavirus crisis.
In Iraq where, in addition to having to address the Covid-19 crisis, the government also had to manage a cabinet reshuffle, IS staged a spate of attacks that extended from the Saladin governorate to the Kirkuk and Diyala governorates. The area, which has been dubbed the “triangle of death”, extends from the border with Iran to the east to the border with Syria to the west. It is a varied terrain, parts of which are mountainous and rugged, and therefore favoured by terrorists as hideouts. The attacks demonstrated, as they were undoubtedly meant to, that the organisation has preserved considerable combat capacity, manoeuvrability and the tactical knowhow to wage lethal lightning strikes.
The organisation’s attacks have also increased in areas under the control of the Syrian regime, most notably those between Al-Sukhna and Deir Al-Zor, indicating that the organisation still has a heavy presence in the region east of Homs up to the Iraq border. Also significant is the diversity of modus operandi. Assassinations, roadside bombs, suicide attacks, defacement of public buildings, attacks against oil and gas installations, armed raids and other such operations testify to the organisation’s ability to move unchecked across large stretches of land. The area east of the Euphrates, the area noted for the presence of the US-led coalition forces and the Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has also experienced an increase in terrorist attacks.
There, IS was handed the advantage of the chaos generated by the partial withdrawal of US forces, the spread of Turkish forces, the prison breaks and renewed fighting between local opposition forces and the Syrian army. At least in that area, however, SDF pre-emptive strikes against terrorist lairs, widespread combing operations and US Special Forces operations targeting terrorist commanders have curtailed IS’s activities.
In addition, Syrian Kurdish political leaders have been soliciting political support to hold trials locally of the thousands of Arab and foreign IS recruits who are still being held in Syrian Kurdish supervised detention centres because foreign governments continue to refuse to assume responsibility for their nationals who left to enlist with the terrorist organisation.
Africa has also seen a rise in terrorist activity recently, especially the Sahel region. Al-Qaeda affiliates such as Nusrat Al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM) and IS affiliates such as the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) have carried out a series of lethal attacks against local and international forces. The violence has displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
In the course of their response to these attacks, French forces with assistance from US AFRICOM, succeeded in hunting down and killing Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) leader Abdel-Malek Droukdel, aka Abu Musaab Abdel-Wadoud, in northeast Mali. They also killed or apprehended about 500 extremists in the Sahel region, including first tier terrorist commanders.
The success of this operation was symbolically important because of Droukdel’s prominent status and long history as a terrorist leader and because AQIM is one of the deadliest terrorist organisations in the region. But if Droukdel’s death delivered a stunning blow to AQIM, the organisation still has the ability to rally. It has a “council of dignitaries” that includes 14 commanders who are responsible for choosing a new leader. Iyad Ag Ghaly, aka Abul-Fadl, a Tuareg militant from Mali and leader of JNIM, is believed to be the most likely candidate to succeed Droukdel.
The Chadian army has been able to inflict major losses on the Boko Haram organisation. It killed some 1,000 of the group’s fighters and destroyed many of its bases in the Lake Chad area in retaliation for the terrorist attack that killed 98 Chadian soldiers on 23 March. Boko Haram has been responsible for numerous terrorist attacks in the vicinity of Lake Chad district at the juncture of Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon (the border area also notorious as a transit point for various forms of organised crime).
Source: Ahram Online