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ISIS & Terrorism during Coronavirus

First published 29th April 2020
by Tom Warneke
Middle East| Understanding Your World | Resolving Incidents & Crisis

Coronavirus has taken podium position in the geo-political race. While politicians and governments globally may have previously been across all manner of subjects, most are off the table to make way for dealing with a global pandemic. Counterterrorism operations and defeating ISIS is one of these things.

The United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has argued that mankind faces a common enemy in COVID-19, and thus appealed for a “global ceasefire”, not all agree. While there are states and groups that have heeded the call, Islamic State is not one.

In an editorial of its weekly newsletter, ISIS championed its cause and proposed to its members that due to the fact national and international security forces and governments are overwhelmed, that now would be the time to get the upper hand.

ISIS’ take on COVID-19

ISIS published their views on COVID-19 in its weekly newsletter Al-Naba (the Dispatch). Entitled, “The Crusaders’ Worst Nightmare”, it reports supporting the effects of COVID-19 on ISIS’ enemies.

“Fear of this contagion has affected them more than the contagion itself”, says Al-Naba, discussing the state imposed lockdowns, self isolations and general lock-in that the world is currently seeing. They also discuss the distraction of security forces as well as the impeding economic doom brought about by coronavirus.

ISIS see COVID-19 as paralysing the west because governments are so busy dealing with national health systems and safety that they’re not sending military into far flung places, particularly where COVID-19 might be less contained and more hazardous. They see the world at capacity and that security agencies globally fear terrorist attacks when their resources are already at max dealing with the medical emergency in front of them.

Mercifully, Al-Naba doesn’t minimise the threat of COVID-19 even to their own community, stating that Muslims have a duty to protect themselves and their loved ones.

The International Crisis Group suggests that “all this is unsurprising. ISIS’s philosophy, after all, is the antithesis of the values underpinning UN chief Guterres’s humanistic appeal. ISIS’s doctrine extends solidarity only to an exclusive community of Muslims, as the group itself narrowly defines them. Universal humanitarianism does not figure into ISIS’s worldview.”

Fragile States

Of course the big risk here is that weaker, more fragile states could open themselves up to attack whilst they are distracted and at capacity dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

Ultimately in the writing of Al-Naba there is some truth. The ability for nearly all nations in the world to deal with an additional crisis at present (be it weather, terrorism or economic) is perilous. The counter-terrorism resources of most nations are strapped, ultimately allowing jihadists and groups such as ISIS the room to potentially escalate their activities unchecked.

Ultimately, if the coronavirus pandemic continues to draw the majority of time, attention, resources and money of governments and the media worldwide, ISIS is left free to operate unattended and better organise and execute resource-intensive, complex attacks, at substantial human cost.

Let us not forget that the rise of ISIS became a global threat largely because of the environment in which they flourished — the local conflicts and failed state of Syria. This then allowed them to grow into Iraq and expand globally.


Local forces in Iraq have seen the most casualties and damaging effects against ISIS. Those Iraqi forces have often relied upon the international coalition to provide key support including technical capabilities (Air Support as well ISR) to continue their fight. If we look at the current tensions between the United States and Iran and how that impacts Iraq, including their requests for the U.S. to vacate the country, there’s a real possibility that the coalition’s counter-ISIS operations may be diminished. Other members of the coalition including the UK, Spain and France have all recently announced withdrawals primarily due to the coronavirus pandemic.

With such a withdrawal in play, it’s likely the country may have issues in dealing with ISIS insurgents

The Sahel

In the Sahel region where we see ISIS’ West African group render their operations, we see similar problems with local governments and militaries weakened by the pandemic. Public safety and health taking priority and a disengagement of international assistance means the consequences could be high.


ISIS is likely to benefit from the coronavirus pandemic as it de-deploys their enemies efforts and resources into the health response rather than counterterrorism. It’s likely in the short and medium terms that ISIS insurgent attacks and violence as well as international terrorism may gt worse.

Mitigating this problem will take a concerted international effort and support from both major international players as well as the local nation states where the conflicts and attacks are taking place.

We’ll continue following terrorism operations across the region and what this means for geopolitics as well as operational security for our clients and stakeholders throughout the area. For more relating to the Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19), the Middle East, ISIS and what this all means for the region, head to



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Tom Warneke

Risk. Security. Travel. Geopolitics. Foreign Affairs. International Aid. The Arts. What makes the world tick and what’s the story behind what’s going on.