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PANDEMIC TERRORISM (Series 2)

Updated: May 5, 2020

A Current Threat Dynamics in Two-folds


By: Leandro Y Paralisan and Rommel K Manwong

LEAPS Academy Philippines | PG Diploma in Terrorism Studies


Leveraging on COVID-19 Crisis; Philippine Troops Attacked


As the world deals with the rising death toll from this pandemic, governments around the globe have stayed conscious of another fearsome enemy lurking around the corner - terrorism. As it seems to appear, the atrocities being carried out in the midst of COVID-19 crisis are deliberate, decisive and clearly leveraging on the current challenge everyone is up against.


Just about three days past, the CTGs planted improvised explosive devices in a farm trail in Surigao del Sur, potentially targeting local farmers in the area. This act of what could have been a tragic one was effectively foiled by the Army’s 401st Brigade and 3rd Special Forces Battalion. These are recent glaring attacks on top of the murders, ambuscades and treacherous acts of stealing government reliefs intended for communities.


Currently, our government troops are in hot pursuit of the terror groups that killed and wounded several of our brave soldiers recently at the southern part of the country. A portion of our forces are also combing heavy mountains going after Communist Terrorists Groups (CTGs) responsible for the attacks against communities targeting our frontliners out to deliver aid to helpless civilians.


Pandemic Exploitation on a Global Scale


While these are being experienced domestically, targeted attacks in the international scene were also carried out by armed Islamist and Jihadist groups under direct orders from the higher ranks of terror organizations such as the ISIS.


Increasing amount of evidence proves strong that these groups are deliberately exploiting the COVID-19 crisis. Drawn from Al-Naba, an ISIS propaganda driven magazine, Shari’a directives were given on how to deal with epidemics - an indication of exploitation about the disease in their favor. Succeeding directories yielded much more about encouraging their followers to take advantage of the vulnerabilities that many countries are currently facing, to carry out attacks particularly against the West. It contends: “The last thing they (the Crusaders) want is for their current tribulations with the pandemic to coincide with the attacks in their own countries like the attacks in Paris, London and Brussels”- and conceivably, our troop encounter with the Abu Sayyaf Group this month may have been a signal of compliance to this global directive.


Meantime, the same gist may have been likely replicated by Pro-IS channels, wherein a picture of the virus bearing a caption “Soldier of Allah” was released through an ISIS aligned channel - a scriptural reference to the virtues of their perceived martyrdom. In addition, the April 15 attack on Mahibadhoo Island in the Maldives where five speedboats and two vessels were set ablaze came unexpectedly as the capital was already experiencing the effects of the pandemic. It can also be remembered, that the first serious terrorist attack in the country took place in 2007 when an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded in Sultan Park at the capital Male, injuring 12 foreign tourists.


Terrorists Today, Responders Tomorrow


Another way of looking into the dynamism of pandemic terrorism is that of understanding how terror groups pay attention to any crisis and take advantage for an immediate future state. The statement “yesterday’s terrorists are today’s public health providers” tells us somewhat relative to the immediate future of pandemic terrorism. The current crisis has opened up opportunities for a range of terrorists, insurgents, and criminal organizations across the world.


As seen in few years past, for instance, when the 7.5 earthquake rocked Pakistan in 2015, members of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa – a notable militant-terror group linked with the al Queda, and blamed for the bloody 2008 attack in Mumbai, were tagged as heroes by the earthquake survivors for their assistance. In the aftermath of the disaster, Lashkar-e-Taiba, another extremist Islamist terrorist organization, won widespread praise for its efforts in helping, providing support, and distributing aid to Pakistanis impacted by the earthquake. Pandemic can also be utilized for such a recognition. The terror groups may set up better structures to readily acquire political and social advantages by way of medical missions or public health services among targeted constituents with the objective to win the heart of the people and their sympathy to their causes, an insurgent’s propaganda to get new converts and weaken their enemies.


Counter Terrorism Operations Amidst COVID-19


Given the foreseeability of criminal organizations exploiting the pandemic crisis, there is a conspicuous collaboration by nations to interrupt crime dynamics in the international level. Codenamed “Maharlika III”, an INTERPOL led operation triggered a synthesize effort between Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines (BIMP) in strategic points along known terrorist transit routes in Southeast Asia. This operation was effectively carried out through a series of simultaneous law enforcement and border control actions since February this year. Such coordinated move did not only disrupted terrorist travel, but also paved a way for the arrest of more than 180 individuals for various offences, including one suspected member of the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).


Tool of Terror and Disease – A Twin Dynamic Threat of the Current Times


With these striking developments, the current pandemic and worldwide disorder is clearly providing extremists, terror groups and insurgents the immediate opportunity to organize, rebuild and carry out their objectives in sowing fear and terror while accomplishing their agendas at the expense of every floating vulnerabilities.


In these current times, benchmarks, platforms are expected to arise not only from terrorist organizations, but also anti-government forces who will find pandemic times working in their favor and considered windows of opportunity. This minacious trend shall bring nations in a tenet, that “Pandemic Terrorism”, is a current threat the present humanity has to deal with, in two-folds.


Suggested Readings:

  • Islamic State Terror in the Maldives – By Azim Zahir

  • Philippine News Agency - NPA Hit for Planting Explosives in Surigao

  • INTERPOL, Codename: Maharlika III

  • Related Articles from the International for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence

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