UN and Afghanistan’s Taliban, figuring out how to interact

UN and Afghanistan’s Taliban, figuring out how to interact
Taliban fighters stand guard along a road in Herat on September. (File/AFP)
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Updated 26 September 2021

UN and Afghanistan’s Taliban, figuring out how to interact

UN and Afghanistan’s Taliban, figuring out how to interact
  • The Taliban wrote to the UN requesting to address the UNGA that is underway in New York
  • They argue they have all the requirements needed for recognition of a government

NEW YORK: It’s been little more than a month since Kalashnikov-toting Taliban fighters in their signature heavy beards, hightop sneakers and shalwar kameezes descended on the Afghan capital and cemented their takeover. Now they’re vying for a seat in the club of nations and seeking what no country has given them as they attempt to govern for a second time: international recognition of their rule.
The Taliban wrote to the United Nations requesting to address the UN General Assembly meeting of leaders that is underway in New York. They argue they have all the requirements needed for recognition of a government. The UN has effectively responded to the Taliban’s request by signaling: Not so fast.
Afghanistan, which joined the UN in 1946 as an early member state, is scheduled to speak last at the General Assembly leaders’ session on Monday. With no meeting yet held by the UN committee that decides challenges to credentials, it appears almost certain that Afghanistan’s current ambassador will give the address this year — or that no one will at all.
The UN can withhold or bestow formal acknowledgement on the Taliban, and use this as crucial leverage to exact assurances on human rights, girls’ access to education and political concessions. This is where the power — and relevance, even — of the 76-year-old world body still holds.
Afghanistan is a good, and perhaps extreme, representative case study of precisely why the United Nations was founded in the aftermath of World War II, said Rohinton Medhora, president of the Center for International Governance Innovation in Canada.
“If you’re the UN and you want to represent the family of nations, then you want absolutely everyone of the family there — even you know, the distant cousin that not everyone’s proud of,” he said. “So the UN needs Afghanistan and countries to demonstrate the value of many of its operations.”
In Afghanistan, the United Nations can deploy the weight of its vast aid and development programs to show just how crucial its often underfunded agencies are in providing stability and security. The country is facing multiple humanitarian crises and near-total poverty due to fallout from the political situation.
There are already growing calls for aid to be contingent on ensuring girls’ access to education. Despite promises to be inclusive and open, the Taliban have yet to allow older girls back to school, have curtailed local media freedoms and returned to brutal practices like publicly hanging dead bodies in city squares.
“Taliban does not represent the will of the Afghan people,” Afghanistan’s currently accredited ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Nasir Andisha, told The Associated Press.
If the United Nations recognizes the Taliban’s claim to power, Andisha said, then it sends a corrosive message to others — be it in Yemen or in Myanmar — that they can take up guns, create violence, join with US-designated terrorist groups.
“I think for the world, for the United Nations, it’s time to use this as a leverage,” Andisha said.
The Taliban’s appointed UN representative, Suhail Shaheen, a former negotiator and political spokesman, told The Associated Press that his government should be admitted into the club of nations and that “all borders, territory and major cities of Afghanistan are in our control.”
“We have support of our people and because of their support, we were able to continue a successful struggle for independence of our country which culminated in our independence,” he said. “We have all the requirements needed for recognition of a government. So we hope the UN as an neutral World Body recognize the current government of Afghanistan.”
More than a dozen ministers in the all-Taliban Cabinet are on a UN blacklist, including the group’s foreign minister, whom Andisha and other Afghan diplomats abroad are refusing to speak to.
Andisha was serving in Geneva under the US-backed government of Ashraf Ghani when the president fled Afghanistan Aug. 15 to seek refuge in the United Arab Emirates as the Taliban encircled the capital. Ghani’s government swiftly fell thereafter.
Andisha is still holding meetings with representatives from countries around the world, imploring them to push for the resuscitation of intra-Afghan peace talks. He wants the United Nations to make clear that joining its ranks is not only about “holding a country under the barrels of your guns and having enough population taken hostage.”
Meanwhile, Qatar has urged countries not to boycott the Taliban, and Pakistan called on nations to avoid isolating the Taliban, and to incentivize them to hold to their promises of renouncing terrorism and being inclusive.
The United States, which withdrew all its forces from the country last month in a chaotic airlift that ended America’s “forever war,” says it is critical that the international community remains united in ensuring the Taliban meets a range of commitments before granting legitimacy or support beyond humanitarian aid.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said this is the message he delivered to the UN Security Council and others on the sidelines of the General Assembly this week.
The US has “significant leverage when it comes to the Taliban,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters Friday. “But we have all the more leverage when we work in coordination and in harmony with our allies and partners around the globe,” he added.
Medhora, of the Center for International Governance Innovation, said the UN has levers it can use through its various agencies, such as UNICEF, which focuses on children, UNHCR, which assists refugees, and the World Food Program, all “where the actual work of the UN gets done.” This is another area where the United States has major sway as the the largest donor to the United Nations, contributing nearly one-fifth of funding for the body’s collective budget in 2019, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
In multiple UN speeches this past week, a number of world leaders mentioned Afghanistan, including US President Joe Biden and Afghanistan’s neighbors, such as Pakistan, Iran and Uzbekistan.
Enayat Najafizada, who runs an independent think tank in Kabul that monitors security issues in Afghanistan’s provinces, said the UN should also facilitate negotiations between Afghan groups and bring the various countries with a history of meddling in the nation on board for the sake of regional security.
“Without forming an inclusive government, the country will move to a civil war,” said Najafizada, founder of The Institute of War and Peace Studies.
Although what comes next for Afghanistan is far from certain, it is clear the Taliban do not want to be seen as global pariahs, said Kamal Alam, nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.
“They want a seat at the UN They want to go to Davos. They like the private jet lifestyle,” he said, referring to the group’s political elite who reside in exile in Qatar.
“But that’s only the political leaders. The foot soldiers on the ground, there’s no such thing as ‘the new Taliban’,” he said. “There is no new Taliban. Everything they’re doing is a tactic to get recognition as well as not be isolated.”


China calls missile launch ‘routine test’ of new technology

China calls missile launch ‘routine test’ of new technology
Updated 19 October 2021

China calls missile launch ‘routine test’ of new technology

China calls missile launch ‘routine test’ of new technology
  • China’s expansion into hypersonic missile technology and other advanced fields has raised concerns
  • Japan said it would boost its defenses against what it interpreted as a new offensive Chinese weapon

BEIJING: China said Monday its launch of a new spacecraft was merely a test to see whether the vehicle could be reused.
The launch involved a spacecraft rather than a missile and was of “great significance for reducing the use-cost of spacecraft and could provide a convenient and affordable way to make a round trip for mankind’s peaceful use of space,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said.
China’s space program is run by its military and is closely tied to its agenda of building hypersonic missiles and other technologies that could alter the balance of power with the United States.
“China will work together with other countries in the world for the peaceful use of space and the benefit of mankind,” Zhao said.
Zhao’s comments on the test conducted in August came days after China launched a second crew to its space station. Their six-month mission, when completed, will be China’s longest crewed space mission and the three-person crew will set a record for the most time spent in space by Chinese astronauts.
Alongside its space program, China’s expansion into hypersonic missile technology and other advanced fields has raised concerns as Beijing becomes increasingly assertive over its claims to seas and islands in the South China and East China Seas and to large chunks of territory along its disputed high-mountain border with India.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price would not comment on intelligence about the August test but noted the US remained concerned about China’s expansion of its nuclear capabilities, including delivery systems for nuclear devices.
These developments underscore that (China), as we said before, is deviating from its decades-long nuclear strategy based on minimum deterrence,” Price told reporters Monday in Washington.
He said the US was engaging with China about its nuclear capabilities and would continue to maintain the US’s deterrent capabilities against threats to the United States and its allies.
US ally Japan, one of China’s chief regional rivals, said it would boost its defenses against what it interpreted as a new offensive Chinese weapon.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno on Monday called it a “new threat” that conventional equipment would have difficulty dealing with. He said Japan will step up its detection, tracking and shooting-down capability of “any aerial threat.”
China appears to be rapidly pushing development of hypersonic nuclear weapons to gain strike capability that can break through missile defenses, Matsuno said.
He criticized China for increasing its defense spending, particularly for nuclear and missile capabilities, without explaining its intentions.
“China’s rapidly expanding and increased military activity at sea and airspace has become a strong security concern for the region including Japan and the international society,” Matsuno said.
 


Why Afghan refugees might face hurdles in seeking asylum in Scandinavia 

Why Afghan refugees might face hurdles in seeking asylum in Scandinavia 
Updated 19 October 2021

Why Afghan refugees might face hurdles in seeking asylum in Scandinavia 

Why Afghan refugees might face hurdles in seeking asylum in Scandinavia 
  • Anticipated influx coincides with hardening attitudes toward asylum-seekers in Sweden, Denmark and Norway
  • Housing shortages, street crime and poor integration blamed for Scandinavian coolness toward refugee admissions

COPENHAGEN, Denmark: As Europe braces for a steady influx of Afghan refugees fleeing the return of the Taliban and economic chaos, a recent shift in political rhetoric indicates Scandinavian countries are less willing to help asylum seekers now than they were in 2015, when they offered sanctuary to tens of thousands of displaced Syrians.

More than 123,000 Afghan civilians were evacuated from Kabul airport by US forces and their coalition partners between August 15, when the Taliban seized the capital, and August 31, when the last foreign troops left the country.

Many of those who fled were taken to emergency processing centers in Spain, Germany, Qatar and Uzbekistan. The UN has warned that up to half a million Afghans could flee their country by the end of the year, with many looking to Europe as a potential sanctuary.

Afghans desperately try to board a departing US military cargo plane at Kabul Airpoirt in September when the Taliban sized control of the country. (AFP file photo)

However, opinions in the once welcoming Scandinavian states of northern Europe appear to have changed over the past six years, with the people there increasingly reluctant to open the doors to asylum-seekers.

“We will never go back to 2015. Sweden will not find itself in that situation again,” Stefan Lofven, Sweden’s prime minister, told the national daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter on Aug. 18, three days after the Taliban seized Kabul.

Indeed, as the situation in Afghanistan again brings the issue of European asylum policy to the fore, attitudes across Scandinavia appear to be hardening.

“Denmark first went down the nationalist-populist road, followed by Norway,” Swedish socialist MP Ali Esbati, who long predicted Sweden would follow suit, told Arab News.

“This is due in part to many people in Sweden feeling that we did what we could in 2015, and that we took the responsibility that a rich country should take while other countries did not.”

Even before the Taliban regained control in Afghanistan, more than 550,000 people in the country were forced to flee their homes this year due to fighting, according to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. In addition to the deteriorating security situation, Afghans have also been contending with a severe drought and food shortages, leading to huge levels of internal displacement.

In 2020 almost 1.5 million Afghans fled to Pakistan and about 780,000 to Iran, according to UNHCR. Germany was third on the list of destinations, with 180,000 Afghans heading there, while Turkey took in 130,000.

Following the fall of Kabul, by early last month about 125,000 Afghans had applied for asylum in Turkey, 33,000 in Germany and 20,000 in Greece.

French authorities have indicated they will accept some refugees but have not specified how many. German authorities also did not specify a number but Chancellor Angela Merkel said 40,000 people still in Afghanistan might have the right to seek asylum in Germany.


Read the first part of the report: No country for asylum-seekers 


The UK said it will take in 5,000 Afghans this year as part of a scheme to resettle 20,000 over the next few years. Austria, Poland and Switzerland said they will not accept any Afghan refugees and have been actively bolstering border security to prevent attempts to enter the countries illegally.

As for Scandinavia, the picture is unclear. Having earned praise for accepting thousands of Syrians at the height of the European refugee crisis in 2015-16, authorities in Sweden, Norway and Denmark appear less willing to bear the burden this time. In fact, the governments of the three nations have not guaranteed even those Syrians already granted asylum the right to remain.

Housing shortages and rising crime levels have led to a hardening of attitudes in Scandinavian countries, including Sweden. (AFP)

This increasingly unwelcoming attitude appears to have developed for a number of reasons, including a shortage of housing and a feeling of embitterment toward other EU member states who have failed to accept their share of responsibility for refugees.

A rise in crime is also a factor. In Sweden, for example, first- and second-generation migrants are overrepresented in crime statistics. While the Swedish National Council on Crime Prevention has repeatedly cautioned that there is a difference between correlation and causation, immigration and crime are nevertheless now inextricably linked in the minds of many voters.

The same is true in Denmark. In Copenhagen, social media influencer and political hopeful Hussain Ali said it is time to break with the cultural trait of “berøringsfrygt,” which translates as a “fear of touching” sensitive topics.

Fans greet and fist-bump Hussain Ali (left), with Copenhagen City Hall in the background. (Supplied)

Ali, a Dane of Iraqi heritage, is running for a seat in the city assembly on a conservative ticket. His impassioned social media posts railing against the failures of integration regularly attract thousands of likes. He recently suggested that all non-citizens convicted of crimes should be deported.

“There are so many young people who live in a bubble of resentment toward Denmark because they feel alienated,” he told Arab News. “They are stuck between Danish culture and the culture of their parents’ home countries.

“I tell them that if they brought their anti-social attitude back to Syria, for example, they would not last more than a minute without being punished. In the Middle East, you respect your elders — that’s part of their heritage that their parents should be teaching them.

“They are also creating damaging stereotypes and prejudice. Many of my friends are judged based on their skin color. People make assumptions about me at first sight.”

INNUMBERS

123,000 - Afghan civilians evacuated from Kabul airport, August 15-31.

1,200 - Afghans deported from the EU in the first half of 2021.

While some might consider Ali a firebrand or an upstart, his message has clearly struck a chord with many. When he walks around Copenhagen he is regularly fist-bumped by young supporters. But not all of the attention he receives is positive.

As he sat outside a kebab shop during our interview, a young man who appeared to have an immigrant background shouted at him: “You’ve sold your soul.” Ali tensed up but remained seated.

“That guy is probably just frustrated and stuck in a situation where he doesn’t have an outlet for his creativity and ambition, despite all the opportunities in Denmark,” he said later.

Syrian refugees react to Denmark's decision to repatriate, initiating a sit-in in front of Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen, Denmark. (AFP File/Getty Images)

Although the hardening of attitudes in Sweden and Norway has been less marked than it has been in Denmark, the mood is clearly swinging in a similar direction.

“The trajectory is quite typical, really,” said Esbati, the Swedish MP. “First a nationalist-populist party starts banging its one-issue drums on migration.

“Then it gets some sort of breakthrough in the media and in elections, followed by the conservative parties moving toward the (nationalist-populist) position. And finally the social-democrats and other left-leaning parties shift over time in the same direction.”

On June 23, the Swedish parliament approved a new immigration bill that makes temporary residency permits the norm, just like the Danish system.

Danish flags wave in the spire of the Danish Parliament building in Copenhagen. Denmark has gone down the nationalist-populist road, rejecting asylum seekers from Afghanistan. (AFP file photo)

“We need an entirely new political (framework) in order for people to be included in society and to settle in,” Maria Malmer Stenergard, an immigration-policy spokesperson for the conservative Moderate Party, said during a recent appearance on national radio. “We have to start by decreasing immigration.”

As European states wrestle with their collective conscience about how best to balance their duty to protect vulnerable civilians with a desire to preserve their national identities, the growing appeal of the populist right in Scandinavia and elsewhere can only reduce the options available to Afghans who are too frightened to return home.

The stories of Syrians with firsthand experience of the welcome mat being pulled out form under them do not inspire confidence.

Hamdi and Sama Al-Samman were threatened by Syrian regime at the end of 2011 for giving food, clothes and blankets to internally displaced families in their native Damascus.

“I knew we’d get in trouble,” Sama said. “But I couldn’t avoid helping those families.”

Hamdi Al-Samman arrived in Denmark in October 2014 after fleeing the Syrian regime. (Supplied)

She added that she began sleeping in her clothes in case the family had to flee in the middle of the night. When the situation became untenable in January 2013, the couple took their three children to Egypt.

From there, Hamid, an electrician by trade, headed to Europe, arriving in Denmark in October 2014.

“We chose Denmark because it would take just one year for the children and me to join him,” Sama said. “In Sweden, the family reunification process would take longer.”

Hamdi found work easily and, since joining him, Sama has been studying Danish so she can work in the preschool education system. Their daughter, Noor, who is in her final year of high school, wants to become an architect.

“Denmark has an amazing emphasis on education,” said Sama. “Our children have opportunities here that they would never have in Syria. Our daughter has opportunities because of gender equality.”

The family’s relief was short-lived, however. In January this year, Mette Frederiksen, Denmark’s prime minister, said her goal is to reduce the number of asylum-seekers to zero. A few months later, the Al-Sammans were informed that their temporary residency permits will not be renewed. They are appealing against the decision.


Young Pakistani inventor invents ‘smart shoes’ to help blind people

Young Pakistani inventor invents ‘smart shoes’ to help blind people
Updated 18 October 2021

Young Pakistani inventor invents ‘smart shoes’ to help blind people

Young Pakistani inventor invents ‘smart shoes’ to help blind people
  • Wasiullah, 17, says he entered world of innovation by repairing and fixing damaged battery-operated toys

PESHAWAR: A young inventor from Pakistan’s northwest has designed “smart shoes” for visually impaired people that warn them with a sound or vibration about any obstacle on their path within a radius of 120 cm.
Hailing from the Swat Valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Wasiullah, the 17-year-old inventor, told Arab News he had entered the world of innovation by repairing and fixing damaged battery-operated toys.
“Visually impaired people will no longer need walking sticks or guides after smart shoes acquire popularity,” Wasiullah, who goes by a single name, said. “The shoes are fixed with an ultrasonic sensor and Arduino board to keep blind people safe while they are walking. Such individuals can get a prior notification of any looming hindrance.”
Local physics teacher Muhammad Farooq said Wasiullah was his most brilliant student and that he had planned to design a new type of a wheelchair to help visually impaired people navigate their surroundings, but that he could not do it due to financial constraints.
Budget restrictions did not stifle his inventiveness, though, and when he designed the shoes earlier this year, it was reward for his perseverance.
“I still believe he has the potential to emerge as a leading scientist if he gets proper coaching and opportunity,” Farooq said.
One such opportunity, which would also help Wasiullah afford higher education in the field of science, could be introducing his invention to the market.
“Smart shoes for visually impaired people are available in foreign countries,” Farooq said. “But their prices are beyond the reach for many in this country. The government should own the project because the shoes Wasiullah has made are comparatively cheaper.”
Mian Sayed, a social activist from Swat, has seen Wasiullah’s smart shoes and is positive that they could even become an export product.
“I knew Wasiullah, who is one of the brilliant students (who) can bring laurels for the country,” Sayed added. “The shoes invented by him can even be exported if the project is owned by the government.”
Wasiullah said a pair of his smart shoes could cost about 4,500 rupees ($26), but he would not be able to finance production himself as he also needs to finance his college studies.
An opportunity may come from the local government.
Sajid Shah, head of the provincial directorate general of science, told Arab News the shoes will soon be evaluated by experts.
“After evaluation by our scientists,” he said, “our department will promote the project of smart shoes invented by Wasiullah for commercial purposes.”

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Philippines seeks to complete restoration of Marawi before end of Duterte’s term

Philippines seeks to complete restoration of Marawi before end of Duterte’s term
Updated 18 October 2021

Philippines seeks to complete restoration of Marawi before end of Duterte’s term

Philippines seeks to complete restoration of Marawi before end of Duterte’s term
  • Duterte inaugurated the reconstructed Grand Mosque of Marawi

MANILA: Four years after pro-Daesh militants captured Marawi, leading to months of fighting with the Philippine Army that reduced the city to ruins, the chief reconstruction official said on Monday the restoration process should be completed by the end of President Rodrigo Duterte’s term in June.
The siege of the lakeside town on the island of Mindanao began on May 23, 2017, and lasted five months, leaving more than 1,100 people dead. It was the military’s toughest and longest conflict since the Second World War.
Marawi suffered widespread damage during the fighting, which forced more than 100,000 residents from their homes in the predominantly Muslim city, according to International Committee of the Red Cross estimates.
“The Task Force Bangon Marawi, along with its 56 implementing agencies, remains on track in completing all infrastructure projects included in the master development plan within the term of President Rodrigo Duterte,” Maj. Gen. (Retd.) Eduardo Del Rosario, head of Task Force Bangon Marawi, an inter-agency task force in charge of reconstruction, told Arab News.
“Rehabilitation of public infrastructures in the city is now 75 to 80 percent complete,” he added.
As Marawi marked the fourth anniversary of its liberation from the Daesh-affiliate militant Maute group on Saturday, Duterte inaugurated the reconstructed Grand Mosque of Marawi.
“This place holds historical and cultural significance in the lives of the Maranaos, who will rejoice as a nation as the Grand Mosque of Marawi brings hope to our Muslim brothers and sisters,” the president said, as the mosque reopened for public use.
So far five of the city’s 30 mosques have been rebuilt, according to Del Rosario, who said the reopening of the Grand Mosque was a symbol of the Duterte administration’s “full commitment to rehabilitate Marawi.”
During the mosque’s reopening, Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao MP Zia Alonto Adiong said the end of the 2017 conflict in Marawi had “left behind so much death and destruction,” but added its residents had been determined to “rise from the ashes of war” and rebuild their communities.
“I am hopeful that in our lifetime, we will see the rise of a better Marawi, a Marawi City with stronger and more resilient communities as its core foundation,” Adiong said.
But the majority of the displaced still cannot return to their homes. Most are living with relatives, while others remain stuck in evacuation centers.
Del Rosario was unable to say whether their houses would be restored by the end of Duterte’s term.
While the reconstruction task force was created in 2017, the city’s rehabilitation has been a process marred by delays.
“The people of Marawi all wish to go home,” Mindanao Party List Representative Amihilda Sangcopan said after the reopening of Grand Mosque, as she called for the restoration of houses to be fast-tracked. “Let us give them the chance to feel the normalcy of life back, a life they used to have four years prior.”


Father of MP’s suspected killer ‘despises terrorists’ after run-ins with Al-Shabaab

Father of MP’s suspected killer ‘despises terrorists’ after run-ins with Al-Shabaab
Updated 18 October 2021

Father of MP’s suspected killer ‘despises terrorists’ after run-ins with Al-Shabaab

Father of MP’s suspected killer ‘despises terrorists’ after run-ins with Al-Shabaab
  • Ali Harbi Ali, 25, accused of stabbing David Amess to death on Friday
  • His father faced death threats from extremists while working for Somali government

LONDON: The father of the suspect accused of murdering British MP David Amess is said to “despise terrorists” after being targeted himself with death threats by Somali extremists.
Ali Harbi Ali, 25, from London, is being held by police over the suspected murder of Amess on Friday.
Ali is estranged from his parents, the Daily Mail reported, and his father Harbi Ali Kullane is said to “despise terrorists” after his time working alongside the Somali prime minister before coming to the UK in 1996.
A security source told the Daily Telegraph that Kullane was himself involved in countering extremist narratives while working with the Somali government.
The source said: “He was quite involved in countering Al-Shabaab’s message in his role as comms director, and he received death threats from them for doing so, which is common for anyone involved in a high-profile position in the government.”
Ali was referred to Britain’s counterterrorism program five years ago after his teachers noticed his views becoming increasingly radical.
Estranged from his family, the young man was enamored with hate preacher Anjem Choudary, who had himself been jailed on terrorism-related charges until recently.
Choudary’s videos, his former friends told The Sun, turned Ali from a “popular pupil into an extremist.”
Kullane has reportedly been in contact with British security services, who are analyzing Ali’s phone and looking for an explanation as to his movements and thought processes ahead of the sudden attack.
Officials are reportedly not yet clear on why the man chose Amess as the target, but a government insider told the Daily Telegraph: “He was unlucky. He was not targeted because of his political party. David Amess was not specifically targeted.”
Amess, 69, was stabbed 17 times during the attack, which took place during his surgery — weekly open meetings in which politicians meet their local constituents.
The attack has raised questions in Britain over the effectiveness of its de-radicalization program Prevent, which was already under review after a string of other terrorist incidents.
There have also been concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic and its restrictions to daily life might have radicalized more individuals, as people are spending more time alone and online.
“Counter-terror police and MI5 have been concerned for some time that once we emerged out of lockdown there would be more people out on the streets and more targets for the terrorists,” a security source told the Daily Telegraph.