ISIS is taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to regroup, and could be set to launch fresh attacks when lockdowns are eased, the UN warns.
The terror group is exploiting security gaps caused by Covid-19 to re-invigorate itself, a report to the UN Security Council says.
Propaganda claims the virus represents the “divine punishment of the West” – and terrorists could be plotting atrocities as lockdowns ease across the world.
A global recession could help ISIS recruit new members, security analysts fear.
Following a string of attacks in Iraq and Syria, experts say ISIS is “showing confidence in its ability to increasingly operate in a brazen manner in its former core area”.
And the report by the UN Security Council Committee adds that the number of attacks has “increased significantly in early 2020 as compared with the same period in 2019”.
Fundamentalists have been encouraged to act while their enemies are “weakened and distracted”.
It is believed there could be 10,000 ISIS fighters still in Iraq and Syria, and the fanatics have an estimated $100 million held in reserve.
Earlier this year US President Donald Trump claimed to have destroyed “100% of ISIS and its territorial caliphate”.
The UN report states: “The impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic on terrorism has varied between conflict zones and non-conflict zones and between short- and longerterm threats.
“Groups are using the outbreak to advance propaganda and fundraising and, in some regions, are seeking to take advantage of perceptions that the attention of security forces is diverted elsewhere.
“At the same time, the pandemic has made crossborder travel more difficult and targets more elusive, and the operational tempo of attacks has slowed discernibly in some regions.
“Should the pandemic lead to a severe global recession, the international community may be faced with further headwinds in countering terrorism and extremist narratives.”
However the coronavirus crisis has impacted on potential targets for terrorists.
The report states: “With public gatherings discouraged and venues closed, there are few targets available to terrorists looking to undertake ISIL-inspired attacks.
“This highlights the operational limitations of ISIL since it gave up its external operational capability.
“Member States believe that the group has increased the urgency with which it is seeking to reconstitute that capability, although there is no evidence that it has succeeded as yet.”
The report added that the terror group could be planning fresh attacks as restrictions are eased.
Experts believe ISIS is anxious about becoming irrelevant amid the threat from the pandemic.
The document states: “ISIL has had a captive audience during the lockdown and, if it has successfully used this for planning and recruitment purposes, it is possible that the easing of restrictions in non-conflict zones will see a spike in attacks once targets become available again.
“Another motivation is fear of irrelevance: Covid-19 largely eclipsed terrorism from the news.”