COVID-19 brings new challenges to counter-terrorism efforts – UN official

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Makeshift Hospital
Photo taken on Aug. 1, 2020 shows the interior of a makeshift hospital for COVID-19 patients at the AsiaWorld-Expo, a venue near the Hong Kong International Airport, in south China's Hong Kong. (Xinhua/Wu Xiaochu)

UN Undersecretary-General for UN Counter-Terrorism Office Vladimir Voronkov on Monday called for attention to new challenges brought by COVID-19 to counter-terrorism efforts.

“This pandemic environment raises several strategic and practical challenges for counter-terrorism,” Voronkov told the Security Council.

The Islamic State (IS) and other terrorist groups seek to exploit the far-reaching disruption and negative socio-economic and political impacts of the pandemic. Strengthening collective action and international counter-terrorism cooperation must remain a priority during and after the pandemic, he said.

Since the start of the year, there have seen contrasting regional disparities in the threat trajectory. In conflict zones, the threat has increased, as evidenced by the IS regrouping and increasing activity in Iraq and Syria. In non-conflict zones, the threat appears to have decreased in the short term. Measures to minimize the spread of COVID-19, such as lockdowns and restrictions on movement, seem to have reduced the risk of terrorist attacks in many countries, said Voronkov.

Yet, there is a continued trend of attacks by individuals inspired online and acting alone or in small groups, which could be fueled by the IS opportunistic propaganda efforts during the COVID-19 crisis, he warned.

The pandemic’s impact on recruitment and fundraising activities remains unclear, as its socio-economic fallout could exacerbate conditions conducive to terrorism and increase the medium- to long-term threat, both within and outside conflict zones, he said.

Meanwhile, there is no clear indication of a change in the IS strategic direction under its new leader. Command and control arrangements between the IS core and its remote “provinces” have continued to loosen, thereby strengthening regional affiliates, he said.

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