COVID-19 and Radical Islam: Impacts and Challenges

The Foundation for Strategic Research has released Covid-19 [coronavirus disease 2019], Jihadism and the Challenge of a Pandemic, a report detailing the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic in relation to radical Islam. Islamic State groups trying to capitalize on the the pandemic have used it as a way to propagate their ideology and increase recruitment. As a result, overcoming the pandemic has become more challenging. In the report, a researcher illustrated one reason this is the case by stating that: “In fact, terrorists do not really believe in the pandemic…” This makes it harder for countries to effectively implement pandemic counter-measures.

Other key factors adding to the issue of controlling the pandemic include the exacerbation of armed conflicts and the deterioration of the economy. With the U.S. military presence easing in places like Iraq, under-equipped local forces are left to defend against terrorists in the area. Additionally, as military staff are shifted to pandemic related assignments, less soldiers are available to defend against terrorist groups in their regions. As these groups continue to spread, they propagate their ideology, some of which has called for using sick COVID-19 patients as “epidemiological-human bomb[s].” According to the report,

“There is a high risk […] that terrorists will try to exploit the vulnerability of states […] by distributing the disease through infected people who will blend in with the supposedly enemy populations.”

While counter-terrorism training is still being implemented in some countries, it is unclear what measures are being considered to combat this possible issue. To make matters worse, as unemployment and social unrest rise with the worsening economic impact of the pandemic, concerns are growing regarding terrorist recruitment and crime. These concerns were also exacerbated by a mass release of inmates, a measure taken by some countries in an effort to diminish the spread of the coronavirus.

For more information on related topics, visit the HSDL Featured Topics on Global Terrorism and Pandemics and Epidemics, or view other resources included in the COVID-19 Special Collection. Please note that an HSDL login is required to view some of these resources.

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Author: Victoria Vanderzielfultz