Back in mid-March, in one of those “irony of ironies” moments, ISIS has issued a travel advisory to its members not to travel to Europe: “stay away from the land of the epidemic”. I guess spreading terror among the unbelievers is now officially considered to be non-essential travel.
In a full-page infographic on the back cover [of its al-Naba newsletter], a list of pro-tips instructs militants on how to stop the pandemic’s spread. ISIS members are advised to “put trust in God and seek refuge in Him from illnesses,” but to also “cover the mouth when yawning and sneezing,” and to wash their hands frequently.
In a subsequent issue of the newsletter, however, the ISIS hierarchy recommends terrorism as a COVID-19 vaccine of sorts, telling its members that “They should also remember that obedience to God – the most beloved form of which is jihad – turns away the torment and wrath of God.” As they say, jihad a day keeps the virus away.
While the terrorist activity has indeed been down lately outside of the usual regional hot spots – no doubt in part because of the pandemic as well as the dismantling of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq – all is not completely quiet on the western front:
German authorities say police have arrested four suspected members of the Islamic State group alleged to be planning an attack on American military facilities.
Federal prosecutors said the suspects were arrested by tactical police units early Wednesday at various locations in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
They identified the men as Azizjon B., Muhammadali G., Farhodshoh K. and Sunatullokh K. — all citizens of Tajikistan. The suspects’ surnames weren’t released for privacy reasons.
The men’s alleged leader, a 30-year-old Tajik man identified only as Ravsan B., has been in jail since March 2019 on unspecified charges.
The founding of the Tajik ISIS cell in western Germany predates the Corona pandemic by about a year.
Meanwhile, in western Africa, the struggle has been turning particularly bloody:
As the world’s attention turns almost completely to the coronavirus pandemic, the battle against jihadi terrorism in Africa’s vast Sahel region has taken one of its deadliest turns yet. On March 23, Boko Haram terrorists ambushed a military encampment of Chadian soldiers on the Boma Peninsula, in the Lake Chad region. Over seven hours, the militants—whose group’s name roughly means “non-Islamic education is a sin”—killed at least 92 heavily armed troops with machine guns and bombs and injured dozens of others.
It is the deadliest attack the Chadian military has ever suffered. Chad’s ruler of 30 years—President Idriss Déby Itno—visited the site of the attack the next day and picked through the burned-out wreckage. “I have taken part in many operations,” he said in a televised address, “but never in our history have we lost so many men at one time.”
Since then, the Chadian military has been taking revenge:
The Chadian government announced Thursday that nearly 1,000 terrorists have been neutralized in the operation against the Boko Haram terrorist organization in the western part of the country.
Army spokesman Col. Azem Bermendoa Agouna told reporters that the Operation Bohoma Anger, launched on March 31 in the Lake Chad border region as well as in the area of Niger and Nigeria, ended on Wednesday.
Agouna said that 52 Chadian soldiers lost their lives in the operation, adding that all terrorists were forced out of the country.
He added that the part of the operation held in the territories of Niger and Nigeria will be taken over by the authorities in these countries.
As part of the operation, the Chadian army, which sent five army squads to cross-border areas, destroyed five bases belonging to the terror group in Niger and Nigeria.
Now, of course, is the perfect time for terrorists to launch their operations, seeing that the authorities are almost completely distracted by dealing with the pandemic and the populations across the developed world are already scared, tense, and prone to panic. One factor against jihadis is that the anti-pandemic measures like social distancing have almost completely eliminated public gatherings, which are the usual terror targets. On the flip side, an ISIS cell could easily sow terror by attacking a still reasonably crowded supermarket or indeed a hospital. Further opportunities exist for terrorists able to weaponise the virus itself or at least the fear thereof. While coughing at passers-by in public places is not exactly a tactic straight from a terrorist handbook, spreading rumours about intentional contagion of people and/or locations may play into propaganda hands and add to the overall feeling of dread currently experienced across the West.