Nowadays, terrorist organizations are more geographically dispersed than it was before, and their tactics became more sophisticated and untypical. The Islamic State’s territories in Syria and Iraq continue to diminish, but the threat of the Salafi-jihadist movement’s adverse actions has not decreased. Many diffuse jihadist groups are able and want to utilize violence in order to attain their objectives. In global terms, the Islamist movement is highly decentralized, but its main coordinators are al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and other local and minor Salafi-jihadist groups. Not all of them possess a threat to the US or EU, as some just pursue their local interests.
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Moreover, in a globalized world, inspired individuals and networks, which operate inside the “enemy” countries, help those groups to be able to conduct attacks almost in every Western country. Terrorist organizations usually target Muslims, who live in Western countries, to recruit and radicalize them. According to Roy (2004), the majority of Muslims in the West are highly assimilated and naturalized, which means that they usually preserve some traditions and follow the Quran but are not aggressively oriented.
Some Muslim organizations even see the EU as a frame that helps to overcome their ethnic and national splits to create actual “ummah.” Sageman (2011) states that terrorist groups, such as al-Qaeda, can be simultaneously characterized as terrorist organizations and social movements. Globalization also influenced the evolution of global Islamist ideology, and the notion of fighting “far enemy” emerged. For instance, the takfir doctrine contributed to the creation of terrorist groups who reject traditional religious interpretations and believe that only they understand Islam. Such ideology even justifies the killing of other Muslims and the use of violence to pursue the jihad. Currently, there is no universal Islamist ideology, but even in that varied dispersed conditions, terrorist movement is still a threat.
Covid-19 pandemic is a critical problem that should be adequately addressed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Measures that help to prevent the further spread of virus, isolation, and treatment of already infected people are the top priority now. Nevertheless, terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda utilize this crisis to recruit new members and devise new attacks on the West. On the one hand, the EU and the US, who are mostly influenced by the coronavirus, focus their efforts to solve internal problems with the help of total isolation, closed borders, and control. Those initiatives are believed to eliminate any capability for terrorists to penetrate. On the other hand, the Western countries are too overwhelmed with the issues related to Covid-19; hence they are vulnerable to the terroristic threat. National agencies and departments are distracted by the pandemic, so now counterterrorism activity is limited, and nobody expects the new strike from ISIS or another jihadist movement.
Despite the overwhelming focus on the Covid-19 pandemic, national security departments should not be distracted from continuous monitoring and preventing possible terroristic attacks. In the aftermath of the pandemic, the Western world, whose economy will be significantly undermined, should be ready for the more robust and more tricky terrorist approaches. Currently, the main terrorist threat comes from the homeland, as external threats are rather limited. According to Bloom and Daymon (2018), the Internet and social media platforms still play an essential role in the development of the ISIS. The majority of popular applications and services are already significantly policed and continuously monitored, but some encrypted messaging such as Telegram became the primary tool of ISIS and their affiliates because it cannot be traced. For instance, jihad groups used Telegram to organize and conduct attacks in Brussels and France.
With the help of encrypted social media, terrorist organizations utilize its “soft power,” disseminating their propaganda to enhance radicalization, operational planning, and recruitment. Such magazines as Dabiq and al-Naba are used to promote jihadi culture in communication with those who are most vulnerable. That is why the DHS should focus its efforts on the policy designed to eliminate the spread of terrorist content and recruitment. Such a policy option includes four main elements: countering violent extremism (CVE) initiative, takedown and flagging, and account suspensions (Bloom and Daymon 2018). However, these initiatives require cooperation between civil organizations and social media companies.
Another connected issue is the increasing evidence of the blockchain technology usage by Islamist radicals to finance their activity and attacks. According to Azani and Liv (2018), in 2012, Islamists started to promote digital currency to overcome the Western banking system that hinders jihad’s financing. Bitcoin technology provides terrorists with an anonymous currency transfer process that cannot be tracked and hacked. It makes them able to use the dark web to enhance donations, as all supporters who are financing them are not paying taxes and do not have any legal risks. It helps jihadists to strengthen their organizations economically in order to expand their activities, so the closed borders and control of conventional bank systems are not enough. Thus the second recommendation is to modernize anti-money laundering laws to combat the efforts of transnational terrorist organizations to finance their activities. The modern Blockchain analysis tools also should be applied to track suspicious transactions because some virtual currencies already have some vulnerabilities.
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In such severe economic conditions, the resilience between national and homeland security should be achieved. According to Gruber (2017), Hurricane Katrina tested the Homeland Security for the first time and revealed its ineffectiveness and failure to assist appropriately. It was due to the lack of coordination between different state agencies. Before that crisis, the DHS was too concerned with prevention and protection of external threat, that was caught unable to deal with the homeland security issue. In order to avoid the reverse scenario following the pandemic, the DHS should collaborate with other national security departments.
The DHS, during and after the Covid-19 pandemic, should pay attention to the internal threat of terrorism. The borders are closed, and further international movement of people possibly will be significantly limited and controlled. However, such jihadist groups as ISIS and al-Qaeda are using the Internet and social media to expand worldwide, recruit members, finance, and coordinate their activities. Hence, three main options have been presented: introduction of CVE initiatives to restrict the dissemination of terroristic culture via encrypted messengers, improvement of anti-money laundering controls, and enhancement of collaborative policy with other national agencies.
If implemented, these initiatives should prevent possible terroristic attacks after the end of the quarantine, hinder the management of virtual currency by jihadists and improve collaboration between security agencies. However, the promotion of AML laws and system improvement requires time, high costs, and may face technological limitations right now. Hence, the best option is to apply the CVE initiative that is aimed to elicit and takedown the extremism content within the variety of social media platforms. The encrypted messengers, such as Telegram, should be primarily controlled and traced or banned when it is not technically possible. This option may bring some personal information security doubts, but terrorism should not have such powerful tools in the globalized world.
- Azani, Eitan, and Nadine Liv. (2018). “Jihadists’ Use of Virtual Currency.” International Institute for Counter-Terrorism. Web.
- Bloom, Mia, and Chelsea L. Daymon. 2018. “Assessing the Future Threat: ISIS’s Virtual Caliphate.” Orbis 62, no. 3: 372-388.
- Gruber, Barbara. 2017. “The Difference Resilience Makes: US National Preparedness-from Civil Defence to Resilience.” Austrian Institute for International Affairs 31: 1-27. Accessed April 30, 2020. doi:10.2307/resrep22272.
- Roy, Olivier. 2004. Globalized Islam: The search for a new ummah. New York: Columbia University Press.
- Sageman, Marc. 2011. Leaderless jihad: Terror networks in the twenty-first century. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.