Afghan security forces standing guard outside the Dasht-e-Barchi Hospital which came under attack in Kabul, Afghanistan May 12, 2020. Reuters
Striking at the enemy’s weakest link is a well-known military strategy. This strategy had been emphasized by Chinese General Sun Tzu (5th-6th Century BC) in his famous work, Art of War. Even ancient India’s political advisor Chanakya had backed this strategy.
The strategy is not lost on international terrorist groups such as the ISIS, either.
As the Covid-19 pandemic brings the world’s powerful states to their knees, needless to say they are at their weakest. Their helplessness in their battle to bring the pandemic under control is as much an exposure of their weak links as it is an enticement for the enemy to strike.
The three-month-long worldwide lockdown has not seen, however, a major terror attack, although in conflict-ridden Afghanistan, myriad terror groups are continuing their terror activities regardless of the rapid spread of the Covid pandemic. Two weeks ago, Afghan terrorists targeted even a maternity hospital, demonstrating how evil they could be in their pursuit of terror.
In other areas, the absence of a major terror attack, like the Boston marathon bomb, the London Bridge stabbings, the Manchester Arena blast or the November 2015 multiple terror attacks in Paris, does not mean the terrorists are not taking advantage of the current situation. If the international community takes heart at the fact that terror attacks have virtually come to a halt during the pandemic, it is a false sense of security. The terrorists are said to be making use of the Covid crisis to regroup.
"The pandemic is helping terror groups’ recruitment drives. Their task is made easy as job generation slows down, people, especially youth, lose their sources of income while the world economy experiences the worst recession in living memory. The crisis is producing armies of unemployed and disillusioned youths who are being targeted for recruitment and indoctrination"
With many War-on-Terror frontline countries concentrating more on the fight against the unseen coronavirus enemy, the terrorists are let loose to plan their strategy to make the first strike in the post-Covid world’s War on Terror.
The pandemic is helping terror groups’ recruitment drives. Their task is made easy as job generation slows down, people, especially youth, lose their sources of income while the world economy experiences the worst recession in living memory. The crisis is producing armies of unemployed and disillusioned youths who are being targeted for recruitment and indoctrination.
Already terrorist watchers have raised alarm over ISIS, the richest terror group in the world, slowly gaining ground in Syria after it faced a series of defeats. The development comes as Russia and Iran -- Syria’s main military allies -- have been hit hard by the pandemic and have scaled down their military operations, while the Syrian government forces are turning their focus more on Turkey’s growing military presence on the border. It also comes as the United States and many European nations have rolled back their military presence in the region during the pandemic.
ISIS view on coronavirus
Last month, through a statement published in its propaganda magazine Al-Naba, the ISIS called on its supporters to take advantage of the enemy’s fear of coronavirus infections and intensify attacks.
The terrorist group believes that the pandemic, which it sees as God’s punishment for its enemies, may offer a strategic advantage and keep Western countries from sending more troops to the Middle East.
Analysts believe even ISIS is taking precautions against the coronavirus. In March, it issued health guidelines to its supporters, urging them not to travel to the areas affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
ISIS resurgence is a strong possibility in the post-Covid world. With the present pandemic being seen in some governmental circles as part of bio-warfare, a serious concern is that terror groups may resort to bio-terrorism.
The Council of Europe
Among those who have expressed concern over bioterrorism is the Council of Europe, though it says there is no concrete evidence to say there could be a heightened risk of bioterrorist attack due to the pandemic. In a recent statement it said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated the vulnerability of modern societies to viral infections and their potential for disruption. The intentional use of a pathogen or other biological agent for the purpose of terrorism may prove highly effective and cause damage – both human and economic – on a far grander scale than “traditional” terrorist attacks, paralysing societies for prolonged periods, spreading fear and sowing distrust far beyond those communities immediately affected.”
The council called on member states to prepare a well-coordinated response and mobilise a wide range of human and material resources to counter the threat.
Covid extremism in Sri Lanka
Although Islam categorically prohibits the use of poison in warfare and Muslim scholars are in agreement that biological, chemical and nuclear warfare goes against Islamic principles, terrorists are known to be giving distorted interpretations to the scripture to create exceptions that will suit their agendas.
In Sri Lanka, as the controversy still rages over the cremation of Muslims who die of Covid-19, some Sri Lankans identified with their anti-Muslim sentiments have expressed fears in the social media that if Muslim Covid victims are buried, there is a possibility of terrorists digging up the graves and taking fluids from Covid-affected bodies with a view to triggering a community spread among non-Muslims as part of their ‘coronajihad’.
If this is indeed the reason why the Government is taking a rigid stance that all Covid-19 dead should be cremated, a stance that goes against World Health Organisation recommendations and is an affront to minority rights, a solution can be found if the burials are conducted in a burial ground guarded by security forces personnel and monitored by cctv cameras until such time the virus is no more in the buried body of the last Covid victim.
Be that as it may, bioterrorism is not a concern for one country. It is an international issue. Not only terrorists, even rogue states can resort to bio-terrorism. The threat is global. What better time than now to convene an international conference under the auspicious of the United Nations to review the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) with a view to plugging its many loopholes and taking effective measures against rogue states and terrorists?