LONDON: A British security expert has warned that prolonged global lockdowns to help stop the spread of coronavirus could increase the likelihood of terrorist attacks in 2021, a British security expert has warned, adding that more groups are trying to get hold of chemical weapons.
Brig. Ed Butler, former commander of UK forces in the Afghan province of Helmand, said COVID-19 had had both “upsides” and “downsides” in the fight against extremism — lessening the ability of terrorists to travel and commit devastating attacks in “target-rich environments,” but potentially exposing more people, especially youths, to online radicalization.
There are “more people by themselves sitting in their single flats, glued to the internet and scanning on the internet these websites where radicalization takes place,” he said.
“We know that governments are now very distracted by COVID-19 and a lot of resources are being used. There will be a lot of competition for those resources in the future on how much you put into counterterrorism and the economic recovery and like.”
Butler said even without access to more dangerous resources, extremists would still pose a threat, highlighting the recent spate of attacks in Europe.
“People are locked down so they can’t get out. There aren’t that many target-rich environments for terrorists, and they may think, ‘Is it worth my while to go out and get a vehicle or a knife, or get an improvised explosive device?’” he added.
“We shouldn’t forget that all terrorist organizations like to reinforce success, and what works last time will work again, and hence the use of knives and the gruesome attacks we’ve seen recently in France and Austria.”
The reopening of economies, mass-vaccination plans and the re-establishment of air travel as a part of daily life could end up facilitating further, larger acts of violence in the near future, he warned.
“We can’t discount the global threat from international terrorism out there with so many failed states exporting terrorism,” Butler said.
“We have Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, who are operating and taking advantage of governments being distracted by COVID-19 measures,” he added.
“We see a rekindling of terrorism trends to buy chemical weapons. The capability is very low, but would be hugely high-impact if successful. Just the use of hazardous chemical material will have a high impact,” he said.
“A key concern, too, is the aviation sector. It’s an iconic target. We’ve seen that in the past, and that hasn’t gone away.”