In the midst of dispersal of COVID-19 in 196 countries in the world, Islamic State (IS) has published key three posts to encourage jihadists around the world to capitalize the pandemic situation to mount attacks against the Kafirs. Such propaganda depicts that extremists should not be taken out of the security equation during the pandemic situation, in fact they can be proactive, innovative and capitalize such volatile condition to achieve their goals.
Recently, a memo has been circulated by a Homeland Security Department to the law enforcement officials across United States of America (USA) warning that violent extremists would capitalize the unstable social phenomena due to COVID-19, to attack the USA. Even if the USA security agencies have emphasized a possible attack by the jihadist only to the USA, current pro IS propaganda has threatened the entire ‘kafirs’ amidst rapidly spreading COVID-19 pandemic.
On 2nd March 2020 an IS aligned group shared a post in a pro IS social media platforms highlighting the incapability of ‘kafir’ states to find a significant scientific solution to COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, on 12th March 2020, a similar post was circulated in a pro IS messaging platform describing the pandemic as a ‘divine punishment’ to the enemies. It also emphasized harshly affected countries such as China, Iran and Italy are respectively can be categorized as countries with atheists, Shia’s and crusaders/Christians. As a result, they are severely punished by god. Further, on 19th March 2020 in the editorial of Naba 226, which is a pro-IS magazine, stated that jihadists should capitalize the current pandemic situation to launch attacks against the ‘non-believers’. It also emphasized the need of the lone-wolves to mobilize and capitalize the social fear rendering in ‘the crusader countries’ due to COVID-19.
However, due to the swiftly spreading COVID-19 pandemic, within a short period of time the security concerns have changed from ‘jihadism’ to ‘bio-defence’. Hence, it is important to calculate the expansion and possible transformation of modes operandi in jihad activities in a COVID-19 world.
WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE OF COVID – 19 TO THE JIHADI WORLD?
COVID-19 pandemic has depicted that world can be shut down/locked down in few minutes of time due to a ‘germ’ which is not even visible to the naked eye of the humans. As of 25th March 2020, one third of the world population is under lockdown and are under strict quarantine regulations imposed by the governments. The latest addition to the lockdown list was India which is also known as the world’s largest democracy. Yet again, the Indian government had to make a choice between democracy and human right over grater good for the greater number of people in a pandemic situation. Additionally, COVID – 19 has also emphasized the fact that, from minimum effort, maximum damage can be caused to countries across the planet. According to the latest statistics nearly 446,699 COVID-19 cases are reported and 19,804 deaths have been recorded.
Not only human cost is a major concern of this pandemic, but also the economic loss to the entire international political system needs to be taken into consideration. Affected countries are heavily investing on containing the pandemic and due to the lockdown the business activities have halted. This phenomena depicts a simple germ can cause vital impact to human lifestyle and to the international system which is what the jihadists are searching for. With less amount of effort, jihadists want to gain the maximum impact which has now been depicted by a ‘virus’. This hints the idea that instead of using complicated machines and bombs similar impact can be obtained by a simple method. Also, such kind of virus or a germ can be developed under minimum supervision and resources. In fact in 2018, MI5 anticipated that returned British jihadists form the IS territory were trained in developing basic bio-weapons and they have the capacity to make ricin and anthrax.
Not only that, but also COVID-19 highlighted that such kind of virus or a germ can be commuted very easily to the community with minimum notice. Also the haulier will not be caught immediately and therefore, can be transported between borders with less security precautions. Also, a virus like COVID-19 can be easily used by the lone-wolves and the results are deadly and affect a larger community by a simple action. Therefore, COVID-19 provides a manual with innovative ideas to the jihadists on how to gain maximum with minimum effort and resources.
IMPLICATIONS TO GOVERNMENTS
Within such context, it is evident that jihadi groups such as IS has comprehend the importance and the effectiveness of such a pandemic. Since, many countries are now locked down due to the spread of the virus, this explains the catastrophe which can be caused by a ‘germ’. As a result, due to its effects from minimal cost of compromise, ‘germ warfare’ can be used by terrorists to further achieve their goals. Hence, it is important for the countries to expand research and development to understand the nature of bio-weapons and whether there is a possibility of such strategy to be used by violent non-state actors such as ISIS and Al Qaeda.
On the other hand, with the continuation of the release of foreign fighters from the prisons in Syria, Kurdistan and Turkey, it is important to secure the boarders since they can be the ‘haulier’ of such bio-weapons intentionally or unintentionally. Moreover, intelligence agencies need to work round the clock to identify jihadists with the capacity on developing such kind of bio-weapons to achieve their goals. Also, these intelligence agencies need to be educated in bio-defence and warfare since COVID-19 has depicted the need of the hour for such capacity building.
Finally, in an emergency situation like COVID-19, governments should be cautious in surrogating the security priorities and rapidly substituting jihadism with a soon mushroomed apprehension, since there will be an imbalance in tackling both ‘old’ and ‘new’ security concerns. Hence, jihadism will flourish in the shadow of COVID-19 without notice and can take advantage of the situation to gain the jihadi goals.
*Sinduja Umandi Wickramasinghe Jayaratne is an Intelligence Analyst in a leading security related organization and a Visiting Lecturer in Bandaranaike International Diplomatic Training Institute in Sri Lanka.