Terrorism thrives in chaos, and there is no bigger chaos than the global humanitarian, political, and socio-economic crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. While governments, worldwide, are strained by fighting the Coronavirus and containing its damaging effects on peoples’ lives, jihadists are seizing the opportunity to revive their activities by amplifying peoples’ sufferings; especially in the areas where poverty, civil wars, and loose governance are prevalent.
Last month, the United Nations warned, in a statement, that "the threat of terrorism remains alive. Terrorist groups may see a window of opportunity to strike while the attention of most governments is turned towards the pandemic." In late March, Islamic State (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda terrorist organizations issued guiding bulletins inciting their followers to use the Coronavirus crisis to rebuild their arsenals and expand the scope of their operations, while most local and international security forces are disrupted from resuming counter-terrorism operations. On March 19, for example, most countries withdrew their forces from the Middle East as NATO and Coalition Forces announced that they would freeze field operations for two months because of the pandemic.
On the internet, ISIS terrorists have been particularly active on social media platforms, since the beginning of the international crisis. They are using trending hashtags, in Arabic, as bait to hunt the attention of Arab youth and recruit new supporters. They publish attractive media and footage to polish their image and promote the hostile claim that the Coronavirus pandemic is a manifestation of “Allah’s wrath” on the “infidels” (i.e. non-Muslims) in the West. Sadly, the terrorists’ endeavors to recruit new supporters could be much easier than before; given this difficult time of unbearable uncertainty and despair stirred by unemployment, economic paralysis, and state shutdown.
On the ground, the life-threatening pandemic did not deter terrorist groups from resuming their activities, especially in Africa and the Middle East. Boko Haram has been wreaking havoc in West Africa, since February. ISIS resumed operations in Iraq and Syria, especially in the northern cities. In March, some ISIS terrorists escaped prison in Haska, northeastern Syria, but were quickly recaptured. In Egypt, Associated Press reported that two Egyptian military officials, on condition of anonymity, noted a spike in ISIS attacks in northern Sinai, during March, and that security forces blocked, at least, three other major attacks. Even the Muslim Brotherhood, who indulge in fooling the world by claiming that they are a political rather than a jihadist organization, attempted to stir trouble in Egypt’s capital city of Cairo, in mid-April.
During the Coptic Christian Holy Week, in mid-April, Egypt’s police forces attacked a terrorist cell in Al-Amiriya, a populous neighborhood in east Cairo. The seven terrorists, killed after four hours of armed clash with police forces, were planning for kidnappings and theft of citizens and senior officials. Although the security forces did not announce the identity of the killed terrorists, there are three strong indicators that they were members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
First; unlike former ISIS operations in Egypt, which mostly relied on young lone wolves, this terrorist cell was composed of seven middle-aged men, who lived in or around this neighborhood for more than ten years. Second; the location of the hideout of the terrorist cell is very close to Al-Matariya neighborhood, which was one of the hot areas for Muslim Brotherhood violent operations, between 2012 and 2015. Third; Aljazeera TV of Qatar and leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood, living in and sponsored by Turkey and Qatar, were strongly defending the terrorists and calling them “innocent civilians” while blaming the police forces for attacking them.
This particular response by Al-Jazeera and Brotherhood leaders raises suspicions, not only about the Muslim Brotherhood's relationship with the terrorist cell but also about Qatar’s involvement in sponsoring and empowering this terrorist cell. According to Qatari-Leaks, Egyptian security found out that the terrorist cell in Al-Amirya had received weapons and money, transferred by a Muslim Brotherhood member in Doha, with the purpose of attacking churches during the Coptic Christian holidays and kidnap some citizens to use them, later, for bargaining with the state on releasing the imprisoned members of the group.
Terrorist organizations, of all shades and stripes, are attacking the blind side of the globe, as brutal as the Coronavirus is doing. Being weak and distracted is the favor we are offering to terrorist organizations and their state sponsors to destroy the world system. The best response to these ruthless attacks should be accelerating the process of economic recovery and allowing daily life routines to go back to normal, as soon as possible.
There must be a way for the efforts to fight the pandemic to succeed, without forcing prolonged periods of lockdown with no clear ending date. This strategy is not helping with containing the pandemic, as much as it is providing the perfect conditions, for socio-economic defeat, for terrorism to thrive.