Covid 19 and new opportunities for jihadist extremism

By Michele Lippiello and Ippolito Sgroi

From "The CoESPU MAGAZINE - the online Journal of Stability Policing – Advanced Studies" Vol. I – Issue 1 – Year 2022

Page 100

DOI Code: 10.32048/Coespumagazine4.22.13

Covid 19 and new opportunities for jihadist extremism(*)


 

Translation into English language: Lieutenant Colonel CC Massimo AMADIO, Professor of Military Art and Peacekeeping Operations at Carabinieri Officers School

Abstract translation in Arabic: 

Doctor Marta CAMPANELLI Doctor of Research in Civilization, Cultures and Societies of Asia and Africa


 

(*) Paragraphs 3 and 5 are to be attributed to Colonel Lippiello, paragraphs 1, 2 and 4 to Lieutenant Sgroi.

INDEX

1. INTRODUCTION 

2. PANDEMICS IN THE HISTORY OF HUMANITY AND THE GEOPOLITICAL AND STRATEGIC CONSEQUENCES 

3. THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY: THE RESPONSE TO TERRORISM 

a. The international community: terrorism and extremism 

b. The UN: the response to terrorism 

c. NATO: the response to terrorism 

d. Europe: the response to terrorism 

4. JIHADISTI: AN OPPORTUNITY OF PROPAGANDA FOR ALL EXTREMISTIC GROUPS IN COVID-19 FUNCTION 5

a. Al Qaeda and its affiliates 

b. The Islamic State and its affiliates 

c. The results obtained and the possible consequences 

5. CONCLUSIONS 


 

BIBLIOGRAPHY 


 

LIST OF ANNEXES: 

ANNEX A: Figures, Charts 

ANNEX B: The Way Forward 


 


 


 


 

1. INTRODUCTION

The COVID-191 pandemic is causing important upheavals in the daily life of each of us and its continuation will probably produce a weakening of the global social economic architecture2, starting first and foremost with the so-called fragile States3.

In the European Community, the pandemic will eventually accelerate the disintegration processes already present, exacerbating the fractures that the States had accumulated internally; considering the pandemic as a competition for efficiency, there will be a redistribution of power and prestige which will be immediately evident in the post-COVID-19; unlike every post-war one, historically clear, simple, chemically pure from the point of view of the hierarchy of power, the post-COVID-19 one will be complex and a confused strategic political landscape could arise.

These considerations are not pure and simple predictions coming from the more or less creative imagination of accredited scholars, but arise from the analysis of the periods following the main pandemics by which mankind has been overwhelmed.

Starting from the picture outlined above, this paper will briefly describe the main pandemics in history and their geopolitical and strategic consequences. Subsequently, the reasons why the COVID-19 pandemic is considered to be an opportunity for jihadist groups will be examined together with the actions recently implemented by the main international organizations (UN, NATO and EU) for the prevention and fight against terrorism. Finally, the COVID-19 propaganda by these main groups will be examined with particular reference to Al Qaeda (AQ) and the Islamic State (IS) and the successes achieved by these terrorist organizations in the current pandemic period.


 


 


 

2. PANDEMICS IN THE HISTORY OF HUMANITY AND THE GEOPOLITICAL AND STRATEGIC CONSEQUENCES

Pandemics, in the course of history, have caused massacres, sometimes ensuing devastating effects on the political balance within individual countries, often modifying their international relations. The affected nations, in most cases, found themselves in the position of not being able to restore their economic, political and social level prior to the pandemic for reasons mainly linked to both the decrease and the weakening of their own population, the consequence of which was on the one hand, the inability to produce sufficient goods in the primary and secondary sectors, and on the other, the inability to conduct conflicts with the same pre-pandemic intensity. However, not all countries are to be entered in the register of losers as a consequence of a pandemic: in fact, those who have quickly restructured their economy, at the end of the pandemic crisis, have achieved notable developments influencing international relations. It is known that, in the past, the reorientation of international trade flows was one of the effects of a pandemic in order to avoid certain ports in favor of others due to possible contagion. Of course, the geographical position of a nation is a determining factor in the spread of a pandemic: the more a country is isolated, the less it risks of being affected by the epidemic, while a State fully involved in international trade is particularly exposed to it; this is in fact the case of the Italian peninsula particularly exposed to everything that happens in the Mediterranean, Africa and Asia and therefore always a victim of these tragedies, either in the past, but also in the present as is being observed with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Historically, for example, devastating consequences both in economic terms and in social cohesion were suffered by both Sparta and Athens following the plague pandemic of 430 BC; the Antonine plague, which spread in 166 AD, caused a profound economic crisis, recession, discontent among the authorities who, as a scapegoat, convinced the public opinion that the spread of the disease was due to Christians, thus causing persecution by the polytheists. Smallpox in Japan in 735 AD it is, on the other hand, one of the few epidemics to have been followed by an improvement in the quality of life of the population, thanks to fiscal policies adopted by Emperor Shomu and aimed at reviving the most affected areas; the plague of Boccaccio in the 14th century brought about important changes in Italy, giving way to the birth of the Italy of the Communes and the economic development today remembered as the Renaissance. Finally, the Spanish plague (starting from 1918) which caused 100 million deaths in the world, accelerated research in the pharmaceutical sector and led to the discovery of penicillin in 1928 (further information can be found in ANNEX B).

It can therefore be noted that pandemics generally constitute an unforeseen event that alters, usually for the worse, the economic, demographic and social situation of the world, leading to the ignition of tensions and claims both within each country and in international relations. Very few cases in history are an exception in which countries have managed not only to minimize the consequences but to understand the new opportunities generated by the consequent change of life of their citizens, avoiding falling into the abyss of insolvency. International trade, both by land and sea, together with wars, has been one of the main vectors of pandemic spreading, which, mainly due to the bereavement they gave rise to, were considered a divine punishment4. A similar approach, is worth noting, is still present in various religions and has been dusted off today during the pandemic linked to COVID-19.


 


 

3. THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY: THE RESPONSE TO TERRORISM

Among the negative consequences of this pandemic, which is putting a strain on world economies and altering our lifestyle, is the growing threat of numerous extremist groups (a threat that takes a back seat to the health emergency even if the Summits of the United Nations and the European Union have already highlighted the danger for some months5). In fact, the isolation dictated by anti-coronavirus measures6 to prevent the spread of the contagion, has increased the exposure to the calls of terrorist and violent extremism groups as stressed by several researchers and CT experts; while the increase in time spent online during confinement has decreased the number of crimes, it has dramatically increased cybercrime and scams, making us more vulnerable to propaganda and fake news7. Some jihadist groups, from the very first weeks after the spread of the virus, have begun to use it as the protagonist of their own propaganda, as a disease that affects infidels and, therefore, inviting their accomplices to intensify attacks on Western countries and then subsequently opting, given the global spread of the virus, for a different strategy aimed at the needs of their followers, giving advice and providing assistance, including health care in areas considered under their control, in particular in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. Furthermore, the consequences of the spread of the virus and the lockdown, are also exploited by left and right extremist groups to attack homeland Institutions, bringing inefficiencies to the attention of citizens and fueling social tensions through propaganda on the media, addressing the management of the pandemic: disinformation, in fact, has been and still is particularly important, so much so that the European Union, and, in general, the main Western international organizations, facing this infodemic, have taken actions to reach a common contrast strategy8.


 


 

The international community: terrorism and extremism

a. Before delving into the responses of jihadist extremism to COVID-19, it is considered appropriate to classify terrorism and violent extremism and briefly mention how the international community has responded to this threat over time. Although there is currently no universally recognized and approved definition of terrorism, under EU law terrorist offenses are acts committed with the aim of seriously intimidating a population, unduly coercing public authorities or an international organization to carry out or refrain from carrying out any act and, seriously destabilize or destroy the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures of a country or an international organization. If there are elements of extraneousness with respect to the State entity alone, we speak of international terrorism and it is easy to understand that, by definition, it is a phenomenon that goes beyond state borders.


 

b. The UN

Within the UN, a series of resolutions have been approved which, starting with no. 1368 of 12 September 2001, redesigned the instruments for a global fight against international terrorism and, unlike the previous resolutions adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, they are not aimed at a specific State nor have a limited purpose, but rather contain provisions addressed to all States to combat the activities of each terrorist group. It is also important to mention the establishment of a series of permanent bodies for the fight against terrorism such as the Anti-terrorism Committee of the Security Council and the approval of fundamental strategic documents such as the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy adopted by the General Assembly on 8 September 2006 and the Plan of action to prevent violent extremism of 24 December 20159 in which a significant terminological change is introduced, compared to the past, classifying as violent extremism groups that elsewhere are classified as terrorists. In fact, a legal connection was also created between terrorist groups, insurgents and violent extremists who are defined as groups and not movements in the absence of a stable and hierarchical structure, a clearly identifiable leadership and a structured financing system: violent extremism, so identified because it lacks a program decided by the leadership and whose attacks are often anticipated by posters posted online, is considered by the United Nations as a threat to international peace and security as it can materialize and materialize in acts of terrorism. Activism in the UN, testifying to the sensitivity of the topic, materialized in 2020 in advocating numerous initiatives around the world, among which particular attention was paid to the 2020 Virtual Counter-Terrorism Week held in New York in July and, in detail, the seminar on Strategic and Practical Challenges of Countering Terrorism in a Global Pandemic Environment which saw the participation of delegations from various Member States, representatives of International and Regional organizations: the event highlighted how the serious global economic/employment crisis and the limitations of certain rights and freedoms imposed by various governments to counter the health emergency have created fertile ground for the proliferation of feelings of hatred and intolerance as well as facilitating the processes of radicalization, both religious and political/ideological; in this context, according to what was stated at the seminar, the Islamic State and Al Qaeda have wisely exploited this situation to feed online propaganda, gain new consensus and incite a resumption/intensification of attacks in some crisis theaters, taking advantage of the vulnerabilities of States committed to addressing the health emergency.


 

c. NATO

Even NATO, over time, has given increasing importance to the terrorist threat. According to the report of the NATO Project 2030, commissioned by S.G. Stoltenberg to a group of counter-terrorism experts, it is the main culprit in the deaths of citizens belonging to countries of the Alliance and therefore must be examined as a priority. The document highlights how the only time Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty was activated10 was in response to a terrorist attack, namely that of 11 September 2001. In 2010, the Strategic Concept of NATO defined terrorism as an integral part of the security environment by reiterating the need to improve analytical skills, intelligence and the training of local forces. Since then, NATO has made much progress, including the adoption and subsequent update of the 2017 Counter-Terrorism Action Plan11; moreover, counter-terrorism has been defined as one of the five priorities of the NATO Science for Peace and Security Program in order to hone its resilience in the field.

The report also highlights the need to more explicitly integrate the fight against terrorism into its fundamental tasks, namely collective defense, crisis management and cooperative security by creating ad hoc structures that require consequent commensurate resources, also in light of the important actions of propaganda implemented by terrorist associations with the outbreak of the pandemic in progress.


 

d. Europe

The fight against terrorism has been identified as a top priority for the European Union: in November 2020, following the terrorist attacks in France, Germany and Austria, EU home affairs ministers agreed to further intensify joint efforts to fight terrorism, without compromising the common values of the Union, such as democracy, justice and freedom of expression, by implementing actions such as improving the exchange of information and preventing online radicalization, particularly accentuated since March 2020, since first weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. By publishing illegal content and/or fake news12. Following the provisional agreement reached on 10 December 2020, on 16 March 2021 the European Council adopted a Regulation, which entered into force from the current year, relating to the fight against the dissemination of terrorist content online (further details are given in the ANNEX D.). The goal of the legislation is the rapid removal of online terrorist contents and the establishment of an instrument for this purpose common to all Member States. The rules apply to hosting service providers operating in the EU, regardless of whether their main establishment is in the Member States or not. The competent authorities of the Countries belonging to the European Union have the right to issue removal orders to service providers, requiring them to remove terrorist content or disabling the access to it; moreover, they will have to act in accordance with the provisions issued by the Member States, removing the content or disabling access to it within one hour. This regulation was the subject of discussion in a hearing on the fight against global terrorism of the Italian Foreign Commission held on 29th of March 202113, which highlighted the pillars of the EU strategy on counter-terrorism and in particular the importance of prevention, given the increase in the online propaganda of the main terrorist groups that emerged in conjunction with the COVID-19 pandemic (in ANNEX H. a summary of the speech by Prof. Alessandro Marrone, head of the defense program of the Istituto Affari Internazionali).


 


 

4. JIHADISTS: A PROPAGANDA OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL EXTREMISTIC GROUPS IN COVID-19 FUNCTION

Following the first analysis, it is possible to state that the coronavirus has been integrated into the propaganda of the main terrorist groups, polarized around the two main networks of Islamic terrorism or Al Qaeda and the Islamic State14 and in opposition to each other in theaters such as the Libyan, Syrian, African, Sahelo-Saharan and the Yemeni. The lines followed to a greater extent by these jihadist groups, in order to exploit the pandemic in their favor, are divided into two complementary and opposing types: attacks on the enemy, using slogans such as Covid is a soldier of the Caliphate, and aid to the affiliated areas/populations15. Confused responses were initially observed followed by opportunistic rhetoric, faithful to their principles and behaviors16, imbued with the idea that the virus was a divine punishment, resulting in the modification or at least the temporary interruption of Western behaviors not in line with Islam. In fact, bars, pubs, discos and, in general, places considered of perdition by radical Islam have been closed in addition to the decrease in the use of alcohol and tobacco even in private homes. In a nutshell, it could be said that COVID-19 has imposed a neo-Salafist doctrine on Westerners by prohibiting hugs, gatherings, extramarital intercourses and veiling women with masks, instead of being slaves to makeup and their beauty, making them available to their family all day long.

Probably, since the virus has fully entered the propaganda, using, moreover, communications on official channels by its leaders17, it will remain there for a long time with the ultimate goal to change the world global order by the terrorist groups, dismantling relationships among the actual international entities and the founding principles of the International Community.


 

a. Al Qaeda and its affiliates

AQ, characterized by a structure of concentric circles with Al Qaeda Core at the center and the affiliated groups around it (AQAP, AQIM, AQI, Al Shabaab and JNIM18), has shown that it fulfills the role of an old sage among jihadist groups: in fact, despite the fact that 2020 was characterized by the loss of historical leaders of the regional subsidiaries of the organization19, it proved to be a patient terrorist group with a very accentuated doctrinal interpretation and focused on religious purity, a characteristic also required of affiliated groups called to primarily perpetrate the AQ core agenda before the local one. Although the pandemic was considered from its origins a divine punishment for the sins and immorality that spread in the world (Muslim and non-Muslim), the first response of AQ was to advise everyone (especially non-Muslims and with conciliatory tones) to study Islam during the period of confinement, wishing non-Muslims to become their partners in paradise20, reflecting the personality of its leader Al Zawahiri, a calm and far-sighted doctor, according to whom Islam has the characteristic of being a religion that has always preached personal hygiene, necessary to hinder the spread of the virus (the first full document published on official channels is shown in ANNEX G). In a video of May 2020, produced by its official newspaper As-Sahab Media, the US and British approach to the pandemic was then criticized, mainly aimed at defending the interests of the economy without thinking about people’s health, defining Boris Johnson and Trump << Darwinists, bordering on eugenetics >> 21. However, even in subsequent videos and/releases, attacks on the West were not encouraged, while AQ strengthened the master message of capitalizing on the pandemic by studying Islam by lending a hand to Americans and Westerners in general in difficulty with messages such as << We want to share heaven with you just as we share this earth >>. Even the affiliated groups, as anticipated, have adopted the same AQ core policy asking mainly their population to close in prayer, with exceptions focused on the defense of areas considered by the terrorists to be invaded by Westerners. The unity between global and local objectives was guaranteed by a skillful communication strategy of the Al Qaeda leadership, which intended to enhance the media production and operational activism of the regional branches and, at the same time, to relaunch campaigns of global breadth, such as the note << Jerusalem shall never be Judaized >> 22, in whose name, among other things, bloody actions against international objectives / interests have been claimed. In fact, JNIM continued to organize attacks in Mali declaring the pandemic a divine punishment against France while the Somali group Al Shabaab instead accused the African Union mission (AMISOM), Somalia and the Western Allies, inviting their militants to attack the detaining facilities in order to save their comrades from the risk of contagion.


 

b. The Islamic State and its affiliates

The Islamic State, characterized by the Caliph at the top and assisted by a Delegation Commission or a Council of Ministers and a Shura Council (Religious Council), is made up of dozens of provinces both in the Syrian theater and outside that territory. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the IS leaders have proved to be very impulsive, confirming their nature which is the main reason for the split with AQ: in fact, IS, via a simple declaration of a new province of the Caliphate, allows, without particular religious and agenda constraints, the affiliation to any terrorist group, promising redemption and acceptance23, or pledges to purify any type of sin committed in the past and consequently guaranteeing paradise. Over the past few months, IS has changed its propaganda by considering it, since the outset, as a divine punishment against infidels24 and promoting do-it-yourself terrorism, asking young natives and non-Westerners to transform themselves into soldiers of the Caliphate and, in particular, to those in the Syrian-Iraqi and Libyan territories, to promote actions, including kamikaze ones, to free their militants, protecting them from the spread of the virus in prison. Subsequently, the IS also addressed its own population affected by the virus by disclosing health and hygiene advice25. The official spokesman also stated that the virus was a tool to distract the West from the Crusade territories by strengthening the main message of the divine punishment against the Crusaders of the anti-IS coalition; he also incited its militants to fight until victory. In Iraq, the IS continued, and at times intensified, its activity with numerous suicide attacks, murders and kidnappings, also exploiting the return of its members to their Country with a strategy aimed at maintaining a substantial decentralization of the organization in the various Countries of interest, leaving the coordination and control function of the peripheral cells at a central level. In Africa, the successes achieved by regional groups affiliated with IS, especially in the Sahel and in the operational basin of Lake Chad, were celebrated with the help of a wide online media coverage increased thanks to the pandemic crisis. In fact, a rise in attacks was observed due to the decrease in the attention of local security forces, committed to implementing the lockdown, and of foreign forces focused on containing infections among their personnel located in the areas of operation; in addition, the training activities of local troops were interrupted and numerous foreign fighters were released and/or managed to escape due to the impossibility of being able to repatriate them. In addition, it should be noted that the Islamic State is the most active jihadist group online through a vast propaganda action in different languages26, in order to reach a large number of people; furthermore, the economic crisis we are observing, by many experts comparable only to the Great Depression of 1929, it is affecting not only Western Countries but also the Arab ones with inevitable consequences such as, for example, the increase in social unease, oxygen for the propaganda of terrorist groups and specifically of the IS. The terrorist group has shown a renewed media momentum, with a more conscious and strategic use of its propaganda apparatus, highlighting the clear desire to strengthen its consensus base, especially in the Indian subcontinent: the online magazine Voice of Hind which, to incite jihad, simultaneously leverages the dynamics linked to the conflict in Kashmir and the conditions of Muslims in India (further details in ANNEX E). 

Finally, the jihadist groups affiliated with the IS are also trying to capitalize on the pandemic as much as possible, as in the case of the Boko Haram27 which, in addition to continuing with the attacks on Western forces, has implemented welfare activities towards the neighboring population and has intensified actions aimed at divine Islam as the best cure for the coronavirus.


 

c. Outcomes and possible consequences

The first results of the media campaigns carried out by jihadist groups have been visible since the first months after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

These actions, which have increased compared to the previous year, are almost all attributable to pro-Islamic State subjects, proof of the persistent instigating capacity of the formation despite the death of the leader Al Baghdadi and the territorial defeat of the Caliphate. In fact, jihadist propaganda and threats to the West, posted and shared on social platforms, have not known any setbacks and ISIS, using the usual mixture of emotional, theological and ideological references, has continued to encourage jihad, as well as to provide instructions for carrying out attacks, recruit / train followers and sometimes remotely direct their followers. There was also constant recourse to propaganda campaigns against infidel states, in order to perpetuate the clash with the West and incite revenge.

In fact, according to the European Union Terrorism Situation And Trend Report (TE-SAT) of 202028, there were 119 attacks in Europe in 2019, failed, thwarted and successful, and 1004 people were arrested for terrorist offenses in the same period (Europol’s annual report in ANNEX C). Of these, 24 are of a jihadist nature, among which 17 thwarted, 3 successful and 4 unsuccessful. The START InSight29 database, in accordance with what is reported in the report of the observatory on Radicalism and the Fight against Terrorism (React 2021, in-depth information on the observatory are reported in ANNEX F.), has instead identified 19 terrorist acts and acts of violence of jihadist matrix completed in the same year (both successful and unsuccessful, differing from Europol’s total of 7) while in 2020, an overall of 25 were registered. In 2019 all victims of terrorism in Europe are the result of jihadist attacks: according to Europol allegedly 10 dead and 26 injured (1 injured following an attack attributed to far-right groups). START InSight reveals a higher number of injuries, equal to 48, mainly victims of secondary and emulative attacks. In 2020 there was a significant increase in deaths compared to the previous year: 16 people killed and 55 injured, a figure confirmed in the Italian report on intelligence policies for security of 2020 issued by the Prime Minister’s Bureau. This is a consequence of the increase in terrorist attacks that led the international community, at the end of 2020, to taking further measures to mitigate the phenomenon: the Islamist attack against a teacher in France once again demonstrated how important it is to fight illegal content online, terrorist propaganda, hate speech and disinformation; in this perspective, in full respect of fundamental rights (such as freedom of expression and privacy), social media and other hosting service providers have been further empowered to verify that their services are not used for illegal activities that promote terrorism and crime and hatred in general. The long wave of terrorism associated with the Islamic State phenomenon recorded 146 actions from 2014 to 2020: 188 terrorists involved (59 dead in action), 406 dead victims and 2,421 injured (according to to the START InSight database).

Recidivist terrorists increased in 2020: nearly three out of ten terrorists, as did terrorists already known to intelligence (54% of the total in 2020) and those with a criminal record. The increase in the potential risk of terrorism was also verified with the increase in irregular migrants: in 2020 20% of terrorists were found to be irregular immigrants; specifically, in France, if up to 2017 none of the attacks had been carried out by irregular immigrants, in 2020 40% of terrorists were found to be irregular immigrants (graphs, figures that summarize the above data, are shown in ANNEX A). As in the rest of Europe, in Italy a certain adherence to jihadism continued to be registered through the web, where articles, infographics, propaganda videos in Italian language, shared material aimed at conveying anti-Western claims and threatening images against symbolic monuments of our country and of Christianity. In this context, the risk linked to the instigating effect that such messaging could exert on particularly influential subjects is taken into consideration, whether they are residents (homegrown/recently immigrated) or in transit, directing them towards extemporaneous demonstrative/provocative gestures, even with violent outcomes, if not motivating them to real premeditated and organized acts of individual jihad. Also during 2020, although no original production of jihadist propaganda in Italian was detected, texts for Italian-speaking users was shared online, mainly using social networks and messaging platforms protected by end to end encryption.

Among the dangerous consequences of the pandemic was the slowdown in repatriation and, in some cases, the evasion of foreign fighters and their families from detention and refugee camps. Furthermore, the coronavirus will lead to an exacerbation of the already delicate social tensions in countries at risk: the dramatic health and economic consequences will exacerbate racial hatred and, for example in the Middle East, the increasingly bitter clash between Shiites and Sunnis will materialize30, with greater discrimination of minorities. In Africa, a continent where jihadist propaganda is so much alive that many experts define some areas of the black continent as the next Safe Havens of terrorist groups, the consequences, in light of the weak health system, could be even worse than in other areas of the world: although containment measures similar to those implemented in the West31 have been implemented, the strength of the African institutions is not such as to guarantee their persistence and effectiveness and the consequences of the socio-economic crisis could reduce dozens of millions of people and be exploited by criminal groups and in particular by terrorist ones. In addition, the virus has also spread to the United Nations contingent stationed in Mali, causing deaths; moreover, terrorist groups have intensified their attacks against the institutions of that Country.


 


 

5. CONCLUSIONS

Social networks and telematic means in general have always been among the main useful propaganda tools for jihadist groups to collect adhesions in areas far from those under direct conflict through the aid of traditional means. However, since the very first moments in which the COVID-19 pandemic began to manifest itself, the online propaganda by terrorist groups has undergone a significant acceleration favored by a general social context torn by the virus, where the differences of religion, ethnicity, culture and social condition have become more divisive and where, therefore, terrorism has found the ideal ground to exploit and deepen these weaknesses and social fractures. Along these rifts, the space for radicalization processes and violent acts has found expansion, to the point that radicalization is in danger of becoming mainstream. A careful look at history, always very useful as an important means of comparison in order to evaluate the effects of similar actions carried out even if in contexts sometimes far from the one in question, teaches us that the pandemic will determine short, medium and long term effect: the short-term consequences are generally negative but the medium-long term ones are not so obvious; indeed, sometimes catastrophic events can turn into opportunities to be seized to improve the common lifestyle by reflecting on the mistakes made in the recent past. In the short term, the serious global economic/employment crisis and the limitations of certain rights and freedoms imposed by various governments to counter the health emergency, have created fertile ground for the proliferation of feelings of hatred and intolerance as well as facilitating the processes of radicalization, both religious and political/ideological. The short-term effects of this strategy can be traced to the recent attacks in Paris, Nice and Vienna, and more generally in the increase of actions carried out by terrorist groups witnessed by the main international scholars/agencies, were performed by isolated cells inspired by the online disinformation of the Islamic State, even if they were not strictly coordinated by this terrorist organization but driven by mainly personal reasons. The outcomes, despite the limited media reverberation, shadowed by the attention of the international community on the pandemic situation, are very effective considering the effects on the perception of common security and disaffection towards the authorities unable to prevent such extreme events. The steps taken by Europe, if on the one hand, through the accountability of hosting service providers, aim to prevent the dangerous publication of terrorist content which has been clearly accentuated since the outbreak of the pandemic, on the other hand they risk limiting lifestyle Western liberal oxygenating the propaganda of the jihadist media.

More complex and less obvious, however, is the prediction of the medium-long term effects: if it is true, in fact, that the persistence of the health crisis situation, increasingly combined with the economic depression, continues to feed and channel social anger towards hostile actions and the persistent call to action of the Islamic State, could represent the perfect mix to be forced to look to the near future with concern (especially in the so-called fragile states): the final result is not certain to be so obvious and clearly outlined for all States. In fact, the same pandemic that has so far represented the key element for strengthening online propaganda activities, could also constitute a brake on violent radicalization for the States that will seize the opportunities, proving to be a striking example of how targeted management, sensitive to the main common problems of citizens, attentive to relational topics such as the quality of life, can, in the long run, determine important advantages by slowing down the exacerbation of social discomfort in place of common well-being.


 


 

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Norlen, Tova C. (2020) The Impact of COVID-19 on Salafi-Jihadi Terrorism. Connections, JSTOR 19(2), [Online] Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/26937606

LIMES, Rivista Italiana per la Geopolitica, Per i jihadisti il coronavirus è una punizione e una benedizione, [Online] Available at: https://www.limesonline.com/coronavirus-radicalizzazione-islam-jihadismo-stato- islamico/118036, [Accessed 29 December 2020].

LUISS, Osservatorio sulla Sicurezza Internazionale, Coronavirus: come l’isolamento rischia di diffondere l’estremismo.

MEMRI, Middle East Media Reserch Institute, Egypt’s Official Fatwa-Issuing Body Warns Against Extremist Fatwas On Coronavirus, Calls To Follow Instructions Of Medical Establishment.

ORF, Observer Reserarch Foundation, Countering Disinformation and Hate Speech Online: Regulation and User Behavioural Change, [Online] Available at: https://www.orfonline.org/research/countering-disinformation-and-hate-speech-online/, [Accessed 30 January 2021]. 

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Presidenza del Consiglio dei Ministri, Sistema di Informazione per la Sicurezza della Repubblica, Relazione sulla politica dell’informazione per la sicurezza 2020 di Marzo 2020.

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1 Corona Virus Disease 2019.

2 COVID-19 crisis and the impacts on the global economy - KPMG Italy (home.kpmg).

3 A state of fragility can be a consequence of situations of conflict, climate issues, governance, absolute poverty or the high rate of violence, in countries where private investment is inevitably limited due to the present risk.


 

4 Just to mention some passages from the Bible, the Book of Numbers or Deuteronomy which explicitly speak of mortal diseases and divine punishments for sins committed against the Lord.

5 Gilles de Kerchove, the anti-terrorism coordinator of the European Union, raised the alarm in April 2020 (see The Straits Times editorial board of 30 April 2020, Militants, fringe groups exploiting coronavirus outbreak, warns EU anti-terrorism chief”). For the United Nations, Secretary General Guterres in a statement entitled “We must act now to strengthen the immunity of our societies against the virus of hate”, underlined the important propaganda activity that terrorist groups are putting in place since beginning of the pandemic.

6 Ibidem.

7 COVID-19 Coronavirus, there is a boom in scams on the web: + 400% compared to the pre-Covid period - Il Sole 24 ORE COVID-19 and the increased risk of fraud (pwc.com.au).

8 “Joint Communication on tackling Covid-19 disinformation” of the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell of 10 June 2020.

9 Action Plan to Prevent Violent Extremism - Office of Counter-Terrorism.


 

10 Collective Defense Principle.

11 CT: the EU Directive 2017/541 on the fight against terrorism was adopted on 15 March 2017.

12 Joint statement by EU Home Affairs Ministers on the recent terrorist attacks in Europe of 13 November 2020 and European Council meeting of 10-11 December 2020.


 

13 Representatives of the caliber of Raffaella Nigro, associate professor of international law at the Magna Grecia University of Catanzaro, Marco Di Liddo, head of the African area of the Ce.S.I., Dario D’Urso, contact person for the he Balkan area of Ce.SPI, Alessandro Marrone, head of the “Defense” program of the Iai, Francesco Marone, program director of Ispi, Luca Franchetti Pardo, deputy director general of Maeci for political affairs and security.

14 The first signs of a possible split came in 2013 when Al Baghdadi, head of the Iraqi branch of AQ, attempted to annex the Syrian faction (Al Nusra) loyal to Al Zawahiri, leader of AQ. The split occurred in 2014 with the self-proclamation of the Caliphate by Al Baghdadi and the situation did not change either with the loss of the Syrian theater by the IS or with the death of Al Baghdadi and the advent of the new leader Al Qurayshi.

15 “Covid is a soldier of Allah”. The jihadist cell that threatened Italy - ilGiornale.it.

16 Groupes djihadistes et Covid-19: postures et impacts in the Ultima Ratio by Laurence Bidner of 10 April 2020.


 

17 This is something that rarely happens and is symptomatic of the fact that the pandemic has taken center stage in the overall strategy.

18 AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) was born in 2009 from the union between the AQ branch in Saudi Arabia (QAP) and the faction in Yemen made up of fighters returning from Afghanistan. AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) is a terrorist group allied to AQ since 2006 and formed by Algerian fighters from the 1990 civil war. AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq) joined AQ in 2004 and was formerly known as Tawhid wal Jihad, born in 2002. Al Shabaab formally joined AQ in 2012, the group was born in 2000 in Somalia. JNIM (Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al Muslimin) is a Sahelo-Salian group that gathers the Saharan branch of AQ in the Islamic Maghreb. (Make half of the lines).

19 Droukdel, head of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb-AQIM, was killed in al Raymi, leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula-AQAP.

20 It is significant that the first six-page document released at the beginning of the pandemic reported in bold only the following sentence: A general Call for the Masses in the Western World to Embrace Islam.

21 Former President Trump in an interview had ironically suggested “disinfectant injections” while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had suggested waiting for herd immunity.

22 Al Shabab militants attack US-Kenya military base (trtworld.com).

23 An indicative example is the affiliation to the IS of the Nigerian group Boko Haram on 7 March 2015, or two days after the oath of allegiance, while AQ had refused membership as they were deemed to be not very observant of the Sharia law.

24 First of all, the Chinese were blamed for the treatment reserved to the Uighurs, then when the virus hit Iran it blamed the Shiites for their repudiation of religious belief, then the Westerners for their actions and customs.

25 Mainly the official weekly magazine of the online terrorist group Al Naba was used as a propaganda tool, posters and infographics distributed via telegram and videos from its official media organs Al Furqan through the official spokesman Abu Hamza al Qurashi.

26 Jihad is also online: al Qaeda and the Internet - Limes.

27 The jihadist group Boko Haram swore allegiance to the IS in 2015, however it subsequently split into two parts: the Islamic State in West Africa loyal to IS and the part loyal to the old leader Shekau (dead) close to AQ.

28 The 2021 TE-SAT Report is not yet available. It is expected to be available by June 2021.

29 Strategic Analysts and Research team.


 

30 “How Coronavirus could make the Middle East even more dangerous” of 12 April 2020 by Colin Clark and Naili Hajer.

31 “Covid 19 in Africa: Disruptions and Post-Pandemic Scenarios” of 13 June 2020 by ISPI, “The impact of Coronavirus on the African continent” of 10 May 2020 by Davide Fusar Poli.


 

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