The outbreak of the novel coronavirus, leaving devastating and disrupting imprints on the world, has besieged the entire globe within a short span. The pandemic that holds around 13.3 million people in more than 213 countries and territories in its claws, also served a glimmer of hope to some actors. These actors, including conflict entrepreneurs, predatory elites, extremists, and terrorist organisations, try to take advantage of the outcomes and possibilities of the threat (crisis). It is conjectured that the massive sufferings and upheaval inflicted upon the governments and public during the pandemic urged the terrorists to exploit vulnerabilities. The opportunistic behaviour of terrorists is visible during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a possibility for them after realising the fact that political leaders are either unwilling or are unable to control the chaos and suffering presented by the pandemic.

Since the spread of coronavirus, the attention of the media, the public and governments worldwide has been diverted. The terrorist organisations surreptitiously operating in different parts of the globe have also started paying heed to the global crisis for their benefit. Traditional terrorist organisations like Al-Qaeda and ISIS also released various public statements after the outbreak of COVID-19 using their respective social media channels. In all the statements released online, both the organisations believed the outbreak of such a contagious disease a wrath of God. They believed it to be a soldier sent by God in response to the repression and brutality Muslims are facing in the world and more specifically Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang, China.

To flourish their radical agendas and recruit new followers, terrorist-extremist groups made extensive use of social media platforms. The use of racist sentiments, anti-Semitic tropes and misinformation through platforms such as Telegram, Rocket.Chat, Gab page, Zoom, and various others became evident during the crisis. Furthermore, the behaviour interpreted through issued statements showed divergence among different groups including Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other affiliates. On one hand, ISIS wishes for the release of its supporters from prisons and to wage global jihad by planning new attacks, Al-Qaeda on the other hand, is busy gaining sympathy, inviting recruits, and seeking funding from businessmen. While Boko Haram is declining any calls for peace, it still aims at capturing Mozambique’s territory.

The recent pandemic has given terrorists and violent extremists a chance to regain influence by advancing hate-filled conspiracy theories regarding COVID-19. This is not just visible in Asia or Africa but also the West saw several militants indulged in weaponising the virus. Groups like the Nordic Resistance, Hundred Handers, and Generation Identity either seek to capitalise on the virus by offering membership or promoting ethnonationalism. However, the right-wing groups in Australia tend to weaponise the virus by deliberately affecting target groups. One notable terror incident recorded in Australia was of a 21-year-old, who aimed at disrupting an electrical sub-station for the construction of an explosive device.

The virus that is dominating the globe has the potential to reshape dynamics in fragile states and conflict zones. It is rightly anticipated that the chaos that flows from failed states not only serves as a breeding ground but also provides an invitation for terrorists to take refuge amidst the crisis. This is true in the case of Asia and Africa, where terrorist and extremist groups such as Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) in Africa, Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), TTP and ISIS-KP in Afghanistan continued to astound the world with their cruelty. The attacks on the Nigerian military, killing 47 and trapping 92 Chadian soldiers are two of the lethal attacks perpetrated by Boko Haram in the wake of coronavirus.

The condition in the South Asian region is even worse. As in the case of Bangladesh, a militant outfit, Ansar Al Islam (AAI), is a growing threat. The number of terror incidents in Afghanistan after the US-Taliban peace deal somehow placed a question mark on its effectiveness as the world witnessed some terrible incidents in the last months. Some of the deadliest attacks include an attack on the maternity ward in Médecins Sans Frontiers, killing new-born babies and several others. Later, a suicide attack on a funeral in Kabul killed more than 40 people and the brutality continues.

Despite tremendous efforts carried by Pakistan’s security forces in eradicating the menace of terrorism from several areas in Pakistan, the recent incident in Pakistan’s Stock Exchange, Karachi (PSX) where four militants tried to enter the building with hand grenades and guns showed an immense need for similar policies in other areas as well. The attack was claimed by the proscribed BLA (Majeed Brigade) with the purpose to not just kill, but also to create a hostage situation inside the building. Before they could succeed in doing so, all four militants were shot dead within 8 minutes by two valiant police officers. Apart from trying to damage the economy, yet again, anti-Chinese sentiments with their presence in the province fuelled the incident.

After taking everything into account, a vast array of dangers, from transnational terrorism, mass migration, organised crime to pandemic diseases, the risk continues to grow manifold. In addition to coronavirus, another research in China discovered the swine flu virus to have pandemic potential, which is reportedly present in pigs. Already the world was not ready for COVID-19, another one of this kind will be even more disastrous. Hence, it is highly recommended for conflict-ridden states to tackle such chaotic situations effectively with minimum loopholes for terrorists to exploit the crisis. The stakeholders should continue to provide military, intelligence, and logistical assistance to military forces and local governments that play a key role in defeating terrorist and extremist agendas.

Furthermore, to stop terrorists from weaponising the virus, a holistic policy addressing cybersecurity issues, countering extremists’ narratives, exchanging viewpoints to lessen frustration, providing opportunities to youth, and initiating online deradicalisation programmes must be adopted. Although COVID-19 is not a biological weapon, the intentional use of a pathogen or biological agent for terrorism proves highly effective to terrorists. Therefore, the future threat regarding the resurgence of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) weapons must be effectively countered.