Extremist organizations like the Islamic State and al-Qaida could use the coronavirus outbreak as a chance to ramp up attacks across the globe, the Associated Press reported.
While the group previously advised its fighters not to travel and carry out attacks in areas afflicted by the coronavirus outbreak, it appears the group and those like it are using the opportunity to plan and launch merciless attacks.
According to the International Crisis Group, ISIS has acknowledged security forces that normally work against the group will be overloaded dealing with COVID-19, and fighters should take “maximum advantage” of that distraction.
The International Crisis Group has previously warned that such attacks could take place in light of the pandemic, especially in countries that are terribly afflicted by the outbreak or already dealing with insurgencies.
The AP reported that while analysts say it’s too early to tell which attacks are the result of fighters taking advantage of the outbreak, some examples of deadly attacks have already taken place.
At the end of March, Boko Haram fighters killed 92 soldiers in Chad. It was the deadliest attack in the country, the AP also reported.
“Never in our history have we lost so many men at one time,” Chad’s President Idriss Deby said, according to the AP.
The group killed 50 Nigerian soldiers in another attack the next day.
The main concern, however, is that military forces from the United States and the United Kingdom will withdraw or be significantly cut in places like Iraq, Syria, and parts of Africa, leaving room for extremist groups to expand and carry out attacks.
Politico reported that the US military is worried that ISIS could expand in northeast Syria. The worry is that if the conditions get worse due to a coronavirus outbreak, the region does not have the necessary supplies to help those who fall sick. ISIS could use that as a rallying cry for riots and recruiting others.
The international coalition to defeat the militant group started sending the Syrian Democratic Forces, which guard thousands of extremist prisoners, basic medical equipment, and other supplies to limit the group from resurging, according to Politico.
According to the AP, while the UK is sending its soldiers who were stationed on a mission in Kenya to give counter-terrorism training back home to the UK, France will keep its troops in West Africa’s Sahel region. Four French soldiers have already tested positive for COVID-19.
While the French troops will continue their work, other African units that are “already stretched thin and under attack” may take additional measures to protect their troops, the AP reported. For example, the Nigerian military is looking to stop most of its activities, especially large gatherings, and training to limit the spread of the virus.
According to the AP, a leaked memo showed that some military vehicles might instead be used to transfer coronavirus patients to hospitals or for mass burials. But the Nigerian military has already been struggling to contain Boko Haram.
Clionadh Raleigh, executive director of the Armed Conflict Location Event Data Project, which tracks extremists’ activities worldwide, told the AP: “Any state that was interested in pulling back in Africa will take the opportunity to do so. That will be unbelievably bad.”