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Pandemic Terrorism


New Wave of a Pandemic Terrorism

By: Rommel K Manwong

Area: Terrorism Studies, Crime Investigations, Applied Criminology

The news is clear. The threat is real. And it just happened. In Tunisia, North Africa, the Tunisian authorities foiled an alleged ‘terrorist plot’ to spread the coronavirus among security forces by coughing, sneezing and spitting on them. Two men and a suspected jihadist behind the plot were arrested on April 16, 2020 as per report from the Tunisian Interior Ministry.

The report stated that one of the terrorists admitted that he was under instruction to carry out the attack. The suspected jihadist was accused of having employed his influence over “those who have symptoms of the emerging coronavirus and who are under administrative control” inciting them to intentionally sneeze and cough and spread spit everywhere.

In the previous months, there were also talks about the US considering the international spread of the coronavirus by extremist groups. As per CNN report, there was a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) document quoted saying that “members of extremist groups are encouraging one another to spread the virus, if contracted, to targeted groups through bodily fluids and personal interactions.”

Even last year, there was an assessment made in the US detailing the risk that terrorists might use infected humans to spread a contagious disease. Indicators reported a ‘highly likely’ to happen condition. Some of the key valuable reasons for its likelihood are - the use of infected humans to spread a contagious disease requires only limited technical know-how, the attack is lethal to targeted population, provide low cost for weapon, have traumatic psychological effect, undermine public health and medical infrastructures, and erode faith in government’s ability to protect the public.

Other report also points out that ISIS tried to find ways to carry out bacteriological attacks, although unsuccessful.

Now that is happening, we are facing another great challenge in the fight against global terrorism. The Islamic State has already classified the existence of the pandemic as a "divine revenge" for the infidels, and it is not far, for their interest, to use the virus as an instrument of attacks.

But we say “we never sleep”. This is our motto. We do not underestimate the use of such means. Our security expert provided us some insights on how to deal with preventing pandemic terrorism. A tripartite system of defense could be adopted and to be used in a layered approach, in order to reduce incidence and effects of bioterrorism via coronavirus or even future emerging diseases.

  1. Disruption - interdicting an infected terrorist before he or she reaches a target location or population will require timely and accurate intelligence. This, we must further intensify our network in the intelligence community, and elevate our skills on situational awareness.

  2. Deterrence - the context of infectious terrorism, criminalization is the primary means of ensuring that perpetrators face severe consequences. The Human Security Act must be repealed, and to include a provision of anti-bioweapon clause in the new law, and reimpose the death penalty for this purpose.

  3. Defense - against an infectious disease attack involves a range of measures that reduce vulnerabilities and consequences in potential target populations. If target populations are secured against outsiders, whether through quarantine, geographic barriers, or physical barriers, they become less vulnerable.

To do all these under the current situation imposed by COVID-19 may be very difficult. Nonetheless, it is important that COVID-19 does not completely distract us and our efforts to beat it down from this ongoing battle. If anything, we need to be reminded all the time, to be always vigilant and to remain attuned with protocols.

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