COVID-19 pandemic could worsen terrorism impact: Global Terrorism Index report
New Delhi: The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to worsen the impact of terrorism in certain regions, and present complex challenges for national and international counter-terrorism responses.
According to a report by the Global Terrorism Index (GTI), the COVID-19 pandemic could present opportunities for terrorist organizations to consolidate and expand their operations and territory, as governments turn their focus from counter-terrorism operations to addressing the public health crisis.
Where a state’s presence is already weak or contested, there could be an opportunity for terrorist organizations to become alternate service providers, gaining favor with local populations through the delivery of essential services or social care.
The pandemic might also provide a captive audience for terrorist organisations, facilitating radicalisation and recruitment efforts. Both al-Qaida and ISIL have issued formal statements on the pandemic, offering guidelines to stop the spread of the virus, but also with messaging aimed at new recruits.
Al-Qaida has suggested that non-Muslims in the West should use this period to convert to Islam. ISIL has urged its followers to actively continue to wage global jihad, and to take advantage of strained security and government forces to launch attacks.
“However, the pandemic has also presented operational challenges for terrorist groups, with curfews and travel restrictions making it increasingly difficult for terrorists to move, recruit, raise revenue or launch attacks. Measures taken to combat the virus have also reduced crowds, and therefore reduced the number of potential terrorist targets. For global organizations, such as ISIL, the pandemic is likely to have an impact on the execution of large-scale, sophisticated attacks overseas. However, for terror groups operating locally, or lone actors, the impact may be less severe.” GTI report stated.
A report prepared by the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) reveals that the Taliban remains the most active terrorist group in Afghanistan. The group continued to mount large-scale attacks across Afghanistan and total attacks by the group increased by six percent. The Taliban retained a focus on police and military targets in 2019, recording 508 attacks and over 2,900 fatalities. Although civilian deaths decreased by 45 percent, attacks against civilians did increase by 25 percent. Afghanistan has the highest impact on terrorism.
“The Taliban is reported to control or influence over 12 percent of Afghan districts, and contests a further 34 percent, meaning the threat to Afghanistan remains strong. The Khorasan Chapter of the Islamic State, the ISIL branch active in Afghanistan and Pakistan, was the second deadliest terror group in the country. The group was responsible for six percent of terror-related deaths in 2019, a five percent decrease from the previous year.” According to the Global Terrorism Index report.
In 2019, the Taliban’s main targets were police and military personnel, which accounted for over half of the attacks and deaths. The group’s focus on state forces has been a feature of their insurgency campaign as a means to undermine state stability. In 2019, approximately 1,835 people were killed in attacks on police and military targets. As peace talks progressed throughout 2019, the Taliban continued to clash with pro-government militias, launching 88 attacks which resulted in 486 fatalities.
The peace negotiations between the Taliban and the US continued into 2019 with both sides seeking to reach an agreement. In February 2020, an agreement was signed outlining plans for a phased withdrawal of US and coalition troops and exchange of prisoners between the Taliban and Afghan government.
The Taliban were responsible for one of the deadliest terror attacks of 2019 when a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden vehicle and assailants opened fire on a National Directorate for Security (NDS) base in the Maydan Shahr district in January 2019. The attack resulted in at least 129 fatalities and 54 injuries.
“Armed assaults and bombings continue to be a feature of the Taliban’s insurgency. Bombings were the deadliest form of attack, followed by armed assaults, with both types of attack accounting for over 1,000 deaths. While instances of bombings increased by 55 percent in 2019, armed assaults decreased by 31 percent. Assassinations also increased by 40 percent in 2019, with the majority of incidents targeting police and military personnel, followed by government personnel.” As per the GTI report.
In 2019, the Khorasan Chapter conducted 55 attacks resulting in 320 deaths. The Khorasan Chapter has been significantly weakened since 2018 as a result of military operations by the Afghan government, the Taliban, and US forces.
However, despite recent losses of territory and fighters, the Khorasan Chapter is believed to still have sleeper cells in cities such as Kabul and Jalalabad. The presence of the Khorasan Chapter continues to challenge the Taliban. In 2019, the Khorasan Chapter was active in seven provinces, compared to the Taliban who conducted terror attacks across all of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. Sixteen clashes were recorded between the Taliban and the Khorasan Chapter in 2019, mostly in Kunar and Nangahar provinces. These provinces are located along the border with Pakistan and have served as operational bases for the Khorasan Chapter since the group’s inception in 2015.
The four terrorist groups responsible for the most deaths are the Taliban, Boko Haram, ISIL, and Al-Shabaab. These four groups were responsible for 7,578 deaths from terrorism, representing 55 percent of total deaths in 2019. ISIL’s global reach has steadily expanded with ISIL related attacks recorded across seven regions: Asia Pacific, Europe, MENA, North America, Russia and Eurasia, South Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa.
The most impacted regions of Pakistan in 2019 were Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Collectively, the two regions recorded 77 percent of attacks and 85 percent of deaths in 2019. The most frequent forms of terrorism in these regions were bombings and armed assaults targeting civilians and police and military personnel.
Sri Lanka recorded the second-largest increase in 2019, with the Easter Sunday bombings accounting for the entirety of this increase. Sri Lanka recorded the deadliest attack of 2019 when eight coordinated suicide attacks across the country targeted churches and hotels on Easter Sunday, killing 266 people and injuring at least 500. ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack, with the perpetrators pledging allegiance to former ISIL-leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi online.