The curfews, closed borders and grounded airline fleets of the coronavirus era have made life difficult for people around the world, but there is a silver lining to the lockdown: terrorists have also found it harder to move around, recruit new foot soldiers and commit atrocities.
Measures taken to limit crowds have also robbed terrorists of many potential targets, although not every attack has been prevented – three were killed in a knife attack in Nice, France in late October.
The overall trend is positive though, as it has been for several years. Deaths from terrorism fell by 15% around the world last year to under 14,000. It is the fifth year in a row the number has fallen and the likelihood is that this year’s pandemic will mean that continues, according to the Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP).
“Deaths continue to decrease year after year and for the fifth year in a row,” says Serge Stroobants, director of operations for Europe, the Middle East and North Africa at IEP. “When we look at the numbers for 2020 the first impression that we have is we see a decrease in the impact of terrorism globally. A lot of different forms of violence saw a decrease due to the lockdown.”
Some groups have tried to use the debate around coronavirus as a new rhetorical front. Milo Comerford of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue points out in an essay in the latest edition of the IEP’s Global Terrorism Index that the Taliban has suggested the virus was sent by God in response to the “sins of mankind,” while Islamic State has referred to it as a “soldier of Allah”.
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Whether such invective will work remains to be seen. There is though a risk that the economic downturn caused by Covid-19 could increase political instability in some places and that governments under financial pressure may decide to cut back on funding for counter-terrorism initiatives.
“We might see less funding for counter-terrorism activities or activities that would create a better socio-economic environment in which people would have less tendency to be radicalised,” says Stroobants. “Under this socio-economic pressure we might see that more people are going to alienate from society, more people feel discriminated against and more people would be prone to listen to the messages of [terrorist] recruiters. That’s a potential risk for the future.”
The countries most at risk of a renewed surge in terrorist violence are generally already war-torn – 96% of all terrorist attacks take place in a country already involved in a violent conflict according to the IEP’s analysis.
According to the Global Terrorism Index, 63 countries recorded at least one death from a terrorist attack in 2019. The country that suffered the most was Afghanistan, followed by Iraq, Nigeria, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, India, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Philippines.
Overall, the Middle East and North Africa region recorded the largest improvement in terrorism for the second consecutive year, recording the lowest number of deaths since 2003. For the second year in a row South Asia was the region most impacted by terrorism, but seven of the ten countries with the largest increases in terrorism deaths were in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Taliban remained the world’s deadliest terrorist group in 2019, although deaths attributed to the group declined by 18%. Islamic State’s strength and influence also continued to decline and, for the first time since it became active, it was responsible for less than 1,000 deaths in a year. In North America, Western Europe and Oceania, far-right attacks have increased by 250% since 2014 and are higher now than at any time in the last 50 years.
“We are seeing new threats of terrorism emerge. The rise of the far-right in the West and the deteriorations in the Sahel are prime examples,” said Steve Killelea, chairman of the IEP.
Source: Forbes – Business