EICTP Policy Report: The COVID-19 Extremism-Nexus.
COVID-19 will transform terrorism and its targets as many extremist movements have realized the importance of critical infrastructure and IT systems. The anger and disenfranchisement that will eventually follow the COVID-19 outbreak will create new forms of extremism, criminality and violence. In fact, we are already observing new waves of violence in various cities around the world, which might eventually also affect the evolution and adaptation of terrorist groups.
Conspiracy theories are flourishing and mutating online. Especially anti-Semitic conspiracy theories are shared across almost the entire extremism spectrum and “fake news” – originating in the spheres of far-right extremism – may thus also find their way into “Islamic extremism” and vice-versa.
Trust into government also erodes due to conspiracy theories and to pandemic countermeasures. At the same time, extremist groups are attempting to exploit present weaknesses, which could continue to weaken the trust people have in their governments and dramatically affect security as well as social cohesion. Terrorism and extremism often emerge when people feel excluded from the system, leading to the perception of the government having failed them. Some may ultimately consider violence to be an appropriate approach in order to express their grievances – the most recent violent outbursts i.e. in Lebanon or Stuttgart are terrifying examples.
The COVID-19 crisis also provides for new possibilities for extremist subversion by movements like the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Europe and internationally. Especially in the Middle East the Muslim Brotherhood has become ever more present on various social media channels and with respect to COVID-19 responses. The same holds true for far-left and far-right movements, some of which – mainly associated individuals – have started to enter political-, mainstream- and parties‘ spheres (i.e. the “Hannibal Network” in Germany or ANTIFA).
Egypt is a key-factor of stability in North Africa, but its government has lost credibility and support during the COVID-19 crisis. The Muslim Brotherhood may attempt to regain power and influence (also by violent means), which may cause the destabilization of Egypt. Similar scenarios or developments cannot be excluded throughout the entire region, on the Arabian Peninsula or in sub-Saharan Africa. The situation in Libya may be further reason for concern, especially since the country has become a hub for state-sponsored mass movement of illegal migrants. Since Turkey’s hybrid warfare strategy appears to now include “migration as a weapon” her military presence in Libya raises concerns.
Countries and societies in sub-Saharan Africa continue to destabilize, whilst extremist groups gain regional strength and find new safe havens. This could lead to a new wave of migration, terrorist safe havens (i.e. Northern Mali) and regional suffering.
A second wave of COVID-19 will especially amplify the aforementioned key-points and the trends described in this report. Furthermore, the impact of an economic recession and economic hardship will be significant and dramatically impact extremist developments.
The police and security services are increasingly becoming a target of violent protestors and rioters. Although some protestors may of course have legitimate goals and reasons for protest (i.e. Black Lives Matter), it remains concerning that unrelated criminals, looters or fundamentalist individuals and groups are starting to hijack such movements and the related demonstrations. The resulting violence, vandalism and looting, but especially the most recent attacks against the police per se may further accelerate grievances, isolate (moderate) movements and cause rifts within society. Such a development consequently also affects the national and international security landscape.