“A mind that is charmed by false appearances refuses better things.” Horace
“It’s rare to find a consistently creative or insightful person who is also an angry person. They can’t occupy the same space, and if your anger moves in, generosity and creativity often move out. It’s difficult to use revenge or animus to fuel great work.” Seth Godin
“Terrorism is a disease that’s not going to end.” Christopher P. Costa, executive director of the International Spy Museum
“With all the worry and uncertainty out there, we want the public to know that there are still things they can count on: We’re here, and we’re going to stay here, to protect them, no matter what, because our criminal and national security adversaries sure aren’t going to take a day off – whether that’s for the coronavirus or, for that matter, anything else.” Chris Wray, FBI
(Day 30 of the federal guidelines for Social Distancing)
As many of you know my background in Global Security Studies is concentrated in Global Islamist Jihadism and Extremism. In this edition of “More than Meets the Eye,” I would like to draw our attention back to the matter of jihadism and extremism in the midst of a coronavirus-filled world.
What are jihadists and extremists doing right now? Are they dutifully going home and staying home, just waiting for a new day when travel restrictions are lifted? Are they adhering to good “social distancing” practices as outlined by the CDC? It may seem as if they have dropped off our proverbial radar screen. Maybe they just took their ball and went home. I wish that was the case.
Jihadist and extremist groups have walked into our current cataclysmic global event with amazing gusto. The tempo of their operations has changed, but they seem pretty intent on not allowing this global chaos to go unexploited.
Headlong into this public health crisis, (COVID-19) enters jihadist and extremist groups, who are actually taking credit for events with which they had nothing to do. Their instinct to capitalize on people’s misery and suffering is consistent across the ideological spectrum, from right-wing extremists to violent jihadists.
Watching the ongoing global pandemic play out is a piercing reminder of a common conceptual metaphor — the one that says terrorism is like a serious disease, controllable but not curable. That’s worth remembering. There appears to be no solution for animus and as expected, there is so much more than meets the eye.
On March 11, 2020, a user on a telegram channel posted about ways he had been attempting to spread the virus to Jews and Indians by coughing on them, including going to a synagogue and coughing in the rabbi’s face. He also said he had rubbed a tissue into which he had coughed, onto the handles of gas pumps at gas stations owned by Indians.
Predictably, terrorists will exploit power vacuums, chaos, and opportunities — anyway they can find to infect us. Already during the pandemic, there’s been an apparent spike in apocalyptic jihadist videos spreading across the Internet.
What do extremists hope to achieve in the midst of the coronavirus chaos? A highly respected ISIS propaganda analyst, Laith al-Khouri, says the jihadists’ main objective is to:
- Sow the seeds of mistrust of government—including spreading disinformation and malign information —while simultaneously using unfolding events to substantiate their view of the world and validate their predictions. Jihadists will showcase governments as having lied to the public about infection numbers, in further undermining the credibility of governments, who are knowingly suppressing information about the virus, such as Iran, Egypt, and Turkey. Homeland Security’s Counterterrorism Mission Center and Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office sent a bulletin to law enforcement officers across the country saying that extremists may be looking to take advantage of the outbreak.
- Jihadists intend to use this chaos to recruit new followers who perceive the terrorist groups as more capable or more honest than their own governments.
- Promote the jihadist ideological correctness of their vision. Al-Qaeda for instance, released a statement on March 31, in which they accused Western governments of ignoring their citizens’ health “instead of ensuring the provision of health facilities and medical supplies they [remain] obsessed with the tools of war and human eradication.” The Taliban, declared that Coronavirus “is a disease ordained by the Almighty Allah which has perhaps been sent by Allah because of the disobedience and sins of mankind or other reasons.”
- Jihadists will use the chaos of the pandemic as an opportunity to carry out surprise attacks against the West. On March 19, ISIS celebrated the spread of the virus as an opportunity for militants and supporters to step up their attacks in the West and elsewhere. In an issue of Al Naba entitled, “Nightmare of the Crusaders,” ISIS highlighted that, given the structural conditions of the United States, the country would be the source of spreading the infection and encouraged followers to exploit this opportunity by undertaking attacks against the West. Laith al-Khouri suggests that ISIS will try to take advantage of the pandemic by launching attacks where there are fewer security measures, such as areas where security personnel are preoccupied with maintaining “social distancing” among the public and trying to preserve socioeconomic order.
- Jihadists will use the fear to convert Westerners to Islam. According to Thomas Joscelyn, executive director of the Center for Law and Counter-terrorism at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), al-Qaeda’s senior leadership released a five-plus page statement calling on civilians in Western nations to convert to Islam during the coronavirus pandemic.
- Jihadists are hoping that the West is taking its eye off the ball when it comes to fighting against terrorist threats. ISIS has called for more attacks in the West during the pandemic, telling followers this is a good chance to “regroup and plan new operations.” ISIS is confident that Western governments don’t want to send troops into faraway lands affected by the virus.” Therefore, they are working in a global environment where they can get away with a lot more.
- Islamist terrorists might use infected humans to spread the COVID-19 disease. Islamist terrorists, and extremist groups more generally, are not bound by ideological or psychosocial norms that prohibit such behavior. In addition, the use of infected humans to spread a contagious disease requires comparatively limited technical know-how. Experts from the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies concluded that such an attack “could prove to be highly lethal to the targeted population(s), provide a low-cost weapon, have a traumatic psychological shock value … undermine a country’s public health and medical infrastructure’s ability to respond, and erode faith in the government’s ability to protect the public.”
There is only one big problem that jihadists and extremists are posed with right now. The soft targets that are usually the focus of their attacks are staying at home. Malls, shopping centers, entertainment venues, parks, and religious institutions are increasingly emptying out, therefore, their target opportunities are diminishing as well. Last month there were only four recorded acts of global terrorism – none of them against Western nations – and only two were confirmed to have been carried out by jihadist organizations. The primary reason we are not hearing about more terrorist attacks these days is that fewer and fewer people are exposing themselves to the volition of terrorist schemes.
How can Western nations or any nation prevent the possibility of bioterrorism emanating from the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic? According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, there are three categories of events that must happen: disruption, deterrence, and defense. For a more exhaustive of these three categories click here.
- Disruption: Interdicting an infected terrorist before he or she reaches a target location or population will require timely and accurate intelligence.
- Deterrence: In the context of infectious terrorism, criminalization is the primary means of ensuring that perpetrators face severe consequences. The deliberate use of naturally-occurring infectious diseases for political or ideological gain fits the definition of bioterrorism; as such, US criminal legislation applies.
- Defense. Defense against an infectious disease attack involves a range of measures that reduce vulnerabilities and consequences in potential target populations. If target populations are secured against outsiders, whether through quarantine, geographic barriers, or physical barriers, they become less vulnerable.
One thing we can all be certain of is this: terrorists’ lust for blood has not been satisfied and the global counter-terrorism networks are not asleep at the wheel. Somewhere within this SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, as we sleep peacefully in our beds, there are many people preparing to commit heinous crimes against us. However, just as surely as there are bad men and women devoted to committing violence against us, there are rough men and women standing ready to do violence on our behalf.
The Coronavirus may be doing in populations what terrorists have long failed to achieve: that is, to keep people in a constant state of fear so that their way of life becomes disrupted. I have seen no greater fear in my lifetime among people worldwide as I do now.
As we are being asked for patience in this frustrating self-isolation to fight the current coronavirus, we must show the same patience in continuing to battle terrorism. Why? There will most likely be a day when a vaccine and/or a therapeutic cure for COVID-19 will be developed. We pray that day will be sooner rather than later. There appears to be no cure for animus. Angry and hate-filled hearts will most likely be with us until the end of time.
We as a people must remain vigilant and situationally aware, because terrorism and extremism of every kind will only worsen. Our role as part of the community of Christ is to love, serve and protect those given to us within our sphere of influence.
How do we live in a world so full of these kinds of existential threats? On one side there is an unknown virus, not seen before. On the other, there are fallen humans who prey on the fears and lives of the masses. No matter how hard we try to ignore them or even to defend ourselves from them, they stay very material to us. They remain perilous to our existence.
We do what humans have always done. We reaffirm our trust and dependence on a personal loving Creator, God. We adapt. We learn to “social distance.” We go home and stay home, till the “all-clear” signal is sounded. We serve the poor, the weak, the frail, sacrificially, even at our own peril. Why? -Because we reaffirm our trust and dependence on a personal loving Creator, God. It’s what He does. It’s what He calls us to do.
When we are out among other people, we must practice good situational awareness. I cannot say that too many times. Ninety percent of all threats can be mitigated through good solid situational awareness. I am talking about both the Coronavirus and Violent Extremists.
These are not days to live in fear. They are days to live out our lives with intentionality, discipline, and self-sacrifice. This year, 2020 can be looked back upon with great joy, depending on how we respond to these hardships now.
Coronavirus in Russia: The Latest News… https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2020/04/13/coronavirus-in-russia-the-latest-news-april-13-a69117
Poor Countries Need to Think Twice About Social Distancing… https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/04/10/poor-countries-social-distancing-coronavirus/
For your comments or questions about any of our digests please feel free to write to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org