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THE IMPACT of COVID-19 on global terrorism, trends and potential risks related to attacks on vulnerable targets and bioterrorism is the focus of a new report issued by Interpol.
The assessment, which is for law enforcement use only, takes into consideration the following five main threat factors: the COVID-19 outbreak characteristics and medical advances, the global or national response, the social climate, the resilience of the security apparatus and, last but not least, the strategies and capabilities of terrorists and other non-state actors.
As COVID-19 cases subside in some regions and surge in others, the report underlines the critical need to monitor the reaction and response by terrorist networks, violent extremist groups and other potentially dangerous non-state actors. Early on in the pandemic, certain terrorist groups and other non-state actors used the pandemic to reinforce their power and influence, particularly so among local populations, or to expand their external financial resources.
Importantly, the report also highlights how the impact of COVID-19 on the global economy is likely to indirectly affect funding available to terrorist organizations.
“Like all criminals, terrorists have sought to profit from COVID-19, to make money, strengthen their base and fuel division,” stated Jürgen Stock, Secretary General of Interpol. “Our terrorism assessment report is another tool to help law enforcement identify and address these evolving threats in what continue to be challenging circumstances.”
Disinformation and conspiracy theories
The use of disinformation and conspiracy theories also appears as a common denominator across all idealistic spectrums, and as an indicator of prevailing threats against priority targets.
The presence of far-right supporters in anti-COVID activities in a growing number of western countries illustrates attempts to use the pandemic to exploit divisions. Law enforcement will continue to face attempts by far-right violent extremists to radicalise social movements, such as clashing with far-left groups and/or provoking the use of force.
Member countries are encouraged to exchange and cross-check information related to individuals and groups using COVID-19 conspiracy theories to call and plan for violent acts. Co-ordinated and consistent use of Interpol Notices remain key to anticipate threats resulting from the direct and indirect impact of the pandemic.
The Interpol report also underscores how the recurring reinstatement of restrictive measures is likely to sustain a degree of civil unrest as well as impact on the choice of timing and targets for terrorist acts.
The document also includes recommendations and early warning signs for the global law enforcement community to monitor in addressing these threats.