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Terror bodies shift to online propaganda, recruitment and fundraising

Terror bodies shift to online propaganda, recruitment and fundraising

With the global population, including over one billion students no longer in full-time education, terror organizations have identified and exploited short-term opportunities to expose a greater number of people to their ideas. As more youngsters spend time online, engaging in unsupervised internet usage—particularly on gaming platforms—terrorist groups are using the opportunity with radicalization to violence being the first step.

This has been revealed in a paper prepared by the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED), a subsidiary body of the United Nations Security Council, on how a wide variety of terrorist groups all over the world have already integrated Covid-19 into their narratives and propaganda, seeking to exploit current events for their own purposes and to use the pandemic to exploit divisions and weaknesses among their enemies.

While assessing the implications of Covid-19 on the terrorism landscape, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had last month warned on how the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da'esh), Al-Qaida and their regional affiliates—as well as neo‑Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups—seek to exploit divisions, local conflicts, governance failures and grievances to advance their objectives in the current situation.

"The pandemic has also highlighted vulnerabilities to new and emerging forms of terrorism, such as misuse of digital technology, cyber attacks and bio-terrorism," Guterres had said at the launch of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Week in July.

The 26th report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team concerning ISIL (Da'esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals and entities, released a few weeks ago, also detailed the impact of coronavirus on terrorism.

"It has varied between conflict zones and non-conflict zones and between short – and longer term threats. Groups are using the outbreak to advance propaganda and fundraising and, in some regions, are seeking to take advantage of perceptions that the attention of security forces is diverted elsewhere. At the same time, the pandemic has made cross-border travel more difficult and targets more elusive, and the operational tempo of attacks has slowed discernibly in some regions. Should the pandemic lead to a severe global recession, the international community may be faced with further headwinds in countering terrorism and extremist narratives," the report mentioned.

It mentioned how terror outfits have had a captive audience during the lockdown and, if it has successfully used this for planning and recruitment purposes, it is possible that the easing of restrictions in non-conflict zones will see a spike in attacks once targets become available again.

<img class="wp-image-10478 size-full" src="https://indianarrative.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/91f9d6cfdfbe54007b59886f6a32926b.jpg" alt="" width="1015" height="626" /> A file collage of excerpts from US federal court documents of interactions among Lashkar-e-Taiba recruitment ring and undercover operatives <em>(Illustration: IANS)</em>

"Another motivation is fear of irrelevance: Covid-19 largely eclipsed terrorism from the news… The pandemic has been presented as divine punishment of the West and a cause for celebration."

While their physical movement has been hindered, the terror organizations like ISIL and Al-Qaida remain active on social media, using platforms and messaging applications to share information and communicate with followers for the purposes of recruitment, planning and fundraising.

"Although the Europol operation in November 2019 to remove extremist content from Telegram appears to have had some impact on the ability of ISIL to disseminate its message, the group has found ways to mitigate the clampdown. To achieve a wide dispersal of video and audio messages in April and May 2020, ISIL used several smaller platforms and file-sharing services, including Dropbox, Files.fm, Internet Archive, Microsoft OneDrive, Nextcloud, Ok.ru, Rocket.Chat and Vimeo."

The UN report noted that while ISIL propaganda characterizes Covid-19 as a divine weapon, there have been no indications that ISIL is systematically attempting to weaponize the virus. The monitoring team has seen reports of some preliminary thinking along these lines and other terrorist groups have looked at the option more seriously, which may itself prompt ISIL and/or Al-Qaida to do so because terrorists take an interest in each other's propaganda and tactics. This is a potential threat that needs to be kept under review.

As Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said: "We need to stay vigilant, as new social and political grievances caused by the economic downturn will provide fertile breeding ground, both in the streets and online.".