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Pandemic and impact on terrorism

The pandemic is likely to have a mixed impact on terrorism trends in the short term, according to a report by Andrew Silke, the reinsurer Pool Re and Cranfield University’s Professor of Terrorism, Risk and Resilience.

He said: “While lockdown measures may represent obstacles to terrorists to carry out real-world attacks, many terrorist groups have also flagged that the pandemic has left government and security resources being severely stretched.

“As a result, the ability of government, intelligence and law enforcement agencies to focus on traditional priorities such as counterterrorism has been undermined.”

One genuine concern, he added, is that COVID-19 may lead to a resurgence in interest among terrorists for using chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons. “Historically, a range of terrorist movements have been interested in bioterrorism though there have been very few successful attacks by terrorists using biological weapons. While serious obstacles certainly remain, the huge impact of COVID-19 may re-ignite some interest in biological weapons.”

Also covered are conspiracy theories particularly extremist right-wing ones, about the origin of Covid-19 and what ISIS propaganda is saying about the outbreak. The report suggests that for terrorists, ‘where attracting media attention is often a significant element in the calculus for carrying out an attack, the current period may offer poor incentives to do so’, given that the death toll and effects of Covid-19 are greater than for acts of terrorism.

As ‘serious long-term vulnerabilities lie ahead’ in social and economic terms due to Covid-19, the report suggests that ‘terrorism is only one of the problems that governments will have to address’.


Pool Re’s Chief Resilience Officer, Ed Butler said: “This report is very timely and worth digesting at a time when we are quite rightly focussed on the near-term issues and human and economic devastation being caused by this global pandemic. However, Pool Re’s core purpose remains the provision of terrorism reinsurance and we need to continue to understand the contemporary terrorist threats as well as horizon scan the future landscape. Pool Re’s strategic relationship with Cranfield University underpins the importance we attach to collaborating with academia in understanding and mitigating against catastrophic perils.”

You can view the full report on the Pool Re website.


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