COVID–19 and terrorism: assessing the short-and long-term impacts
Andrew Silke, Pool Re and Cranfield University’s Professor of Terrorism Risk Management and Resilience assesses, in the attached report, the short and long term impacts and potential consequences of Covid 19 on terrorist actors, target types and methodologies. This article 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.
Read the full report here:COVID-19-and-Terrorsim-report-V1
To benefit from enhanced interactivity and see additional data we recommend you open this report using Adobe Acrobat Reader.
Join Ed Butler our Chief Resilience Officer examine the report in more detail with Professor Andrew Silke and Chris Holt in this on demand recording
Supplementary questions for Prof Silke
We recently presented a 45-minute live webinar hosted by Ed Butler CBE DSO Chief Resilience Officer at Pool Re, featuring Prof Andrew Silke, author of: COVID–19 and Terrorism, alongside Chris Holt, the CEO of CHC Global, an insurance intermediary and special risks advisor, surveying the short-and long-term impacts of a global pandemic on the current threat landscape, and the steps business should consider to remain resilient.
There were many questions asked both during and after the event. So in this post, Prof Andrew Silke answers some of the remaining questions, related questions have been combined to avoid duplication.
Tough question to answer, but we are looking at countries already vulnerable which are either (1) directly badly affected by Covid-19 and/or (2) heavily dependent on support from other states which are themselves seriously affected and thus less able to continue to provide support. Syria, for example, already looks like it is a country descending into deeper trouble. What happens in parts of Africa will also be particularly significant, with plenty of warning signs for countries such as Chad and Sudan, for example.
In the short term, as lockdown eases we can expect that planning and preparation for attacks which had been put on hold will commence again. That suggests an increase in plots in the coming months compared to a quiet period during lockdown. Longer term a concern is what impact will exposure to online propaganda have on radicalisation rates in the UK? If increased online engagement translates into radicalisation we can expect that to potentially feed into an increase in plots over the next 6-18 months.
We run the world’s largest and most sophisticated hotel violence database (Muir Analytics) and recently saw some small but vicious hotel and tourist attacks in the Maldives by ISIS connected terrorists. What is your take on the possibility of a major, Mumbai-style attack by any of these type groups before the end of the year?
This was answered during the webinar, but just to reiterate that a marauding gun attack along Mumbai lines remains one of the most credible worst-case scenario attacks for the UK and many other countries. In the UK, Islamist-inspired terrorists have consistently struggled to access the firearms needed for such an attack and have thus resorted to other methods. There is no sense that firearms will be easier to access here in the short or medium term, so other attack methods are still more likely. Elsewhere, however, where access is more feasible, this does remain an attractive tactic for many groups.
Some traditional state backers are likely to have much less money to divert to terrorist groups. Iran, for example, has been hit hard by Covid-19 and is likely to want to scale back to some degree the support it funnels to groups such as Hezbollah. But other groups – notably right-wing and many Islamist-inspired cells in advanced markets – already operate on shoe- string budgets as is and are less likely to be affected by a sudden drop in state backing that some of the larger terrorist groups might feel.
Some degree of continued disturbance in the US is very likely for this year with a Presidential election in the offing, but complete breakdown or serious armed conflict is unlikely. It is worth remembering that the US still boasts an extremely strong security and criminal justice infrastructure by international standards.
First, it is worth acknowledging that an increased risk of terrorism is not the most serious consequence of a pandemic. We can see all too clearly right now that pandemics can cause massive harm on a range of fronts.
The immediate issue with regard to terrorism though has been (1) states distracted by the heavy demands of managing the pandemic; (2) extremists feeding into conspiracy narratives; and (3) the long-term consequences of heavy economic costs.
A more effective response in recognising the seriousness of the pandemic at earlier stages, combined with a better track record of more robust preparation policies in terms of stockpiling equipment, etc., could have limited the current serious impact. More effective communication strategies during the crisis could have helped to suppress the conspiracy theory narratives from gaining traction. All of these issues should be considered as we think about how to prevent and mitigate the harmful impacts of pandemics in the future.
The main cyber threats currently facing the UK remain those originating from organised crime networks and from state-level actors. For now, terrorists remain small fish in this arena – largely more focused on the propaganda value of cyberspace. The threat from other actors is very substantial however and needs careful attention.