Interesting Article: "UN counter-terrorism chief urges continued vigilance against ‘real’ ongoing threat" by UN News. 12 January 2021.
An interesting article mentioned that despite important strikes against terrorism over the past two decades, including in bringing perpetrators to justice and disrupting additional attacks, countries cannot afford to let down their guard. The COVID-19 pandemic has only amplified the need for action, as terrorists take advantage of the crisis to exploit new technologies and linkages with organized crime groups. The threat has become even more difficult to prevent, with low-cost, low-tech attacks against soft targets by so called lone wolves.
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During the 2020-2021 COVID-19 pandemic, ISIL affiliates have sprung up in other parts of the world. As a response to this ever-growing threat, a new UN office in Doha was begun to advance research into the factors that drive violent extremism and terrorism. The International Hub on Behavioral Insights to Counter Terrorism will use cognitive psychology, behavioral economics, and social sciences to improve understanding about these ongoing threats to global peace and security. Beyond conducting and advancing research, the hub will assist countries, regional organizations, and civil society partners with developing and implementing Programmes and initiatives, in addition to promoting partnerships to share expertise, knowledge, and lessons learned.
The issue with ISIL is the continuous resurgence of actors that continue to proliferate extremism in once defeated areas. Reports of radicalization, new methods of fundraising, training, and incitement of external operations in facilities housing terror group ISIL in conflict-ridden Syria are of serious concern, underlining that political developments cannot be isolated from violations of Syrian sovereignty by outside factors.
Extremism has been percolating in the African continent and it will get much worse before it gets better. France has been at the fore-front of trying to ensure the defeat of terrorism in the Sahel before it reaches the borders of Europe.
Large swaths of the Sahel are teaming with extremists and the newly formed Task Force Takuba is bringing the special forces of 7 European countries to fight terrorism in the Sahel. The security situation in the three-border area (Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger), also known as the Liptako region, has continued to deteriorate.
Conflict metrics show a spiraling of violence. Since 2016, terrorist attacks in this region have increased by 500%. A multitude of evolving terrorist groups are still active in the Sahel: Jama’at Nusrat al Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM), linked to Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM); Islamic State in the West Africa Province (ISWAP), a splinter of Boko Haram; and The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS).
Terrorists have also expanded their territorial presence in the south and the west of the region, exploiting the failure of the states accelerated by the pandemic to recruit new fighters. In such instances, recruits have been joining largely for financial gain and social status, rather than shared ideological beliefs with radical groups. Recent kidnappings linked to ISWAP in the Northwestern part of Nigeria also highlights the role of local banditry and its interplay with terror groups to further challenge the authority of failing states.
This makes the work taking place in Doha vitally important in understanding how to defeat the spread in areas that are severely underserved.
With the U.S. forces having a draw down in the Middle East, South Asia, and throughout Africa, al Qaeda, the Islamic State (ISIS), and their respective affiliates could make a renewed push to capture new territory and destabilize countries and regions. Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Nigeria are home to jihadist groups linked to al Qaeda and ISIS. Even with the current state of its leadership in question with uncertainty surrounding the health of Ayman al-Zawahiri and the recent assassination of al Qaeda veteran Muhammad al-Masri, 2021 could prove to be a banner year for al Qaeda as it seeks to reassert itself through affiliates around the globe.
As the United States continues to shift resources and redeploy troops in various theatres, there could be openings for terrorist and insurgent groups to take advantage of potential power vacuums. In Syria, while the Bashar al Assad regime has consolidated control over critical territory, Idlib Province is dominated by terrorist groups, including Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and the al Qaeda-linked Hurras al-Din. COVID-19 did little to slow the operational tempo of Islamic State attacks in Syria.
In all of 2019, there were 144 total attacks, but through the first three quarters of 2020, ISIS managed to conduct 126 attacks, expanding significantly in southern Raqqa and eastern Hama. This year may present more, not fewer, opportunities for terrorist groups to recruit and launch strikes throughout the Levant.
Violent extremists and terrorists continue to exploit trends connected to the pandemic, including an increase in the use of social media and the internet more broadly. Those groups spread misinformation and propaganda for radicalization purposes with the goal of recruitment.