Terrorists are using the coronavirus lockdown to infiltrate Europe, experts said.
One of Europe’s most high-profile ISIS terrorists, Abdel Majed Abdel Bary, was arrested in Spain on Tuesday and last week, a new ISIS terrorist cell was caught in Germany.
British extremist Bary, 28, had taken advantage of the Spanish lockdown to enter the country and was using a face mask to disguise himself, authorities said. The terrorist cell in Germany had been raising funds for attacks on US forces stationed there.
Nikita Malik, director of the Centre on Radicalisation and Terrorism at the Henry Jackson Society, has given a warning that more terrorists could be using the pandemic to cross the continent and is urging authorities to be vigilant.
“If Abdel Majed Abdel Bary has been hiding in Europe, this raises the possibility that there could be many other ISIS suspects who are still unaccounted for,” she said.
“Covid-19 will allow suspected terrorists to hide indoors, and to travel outside undercover.
“While those monitored by the authorities are less likely to present a threat during this period, the police must remain vigilant to those who are off the radar or may be using distractions to smuggle into Europe.
“It is therefore imperative that intelligence is shared between countries to ensure that current gaps are not exploited by terrorists.”
Earlier this month, judicial agency Eurojust said the number of terrorist investigations had risen by 14 per cent over the last year.
It said it dealt with 222 terrorism cases last year, compared with 191 in 2018.
The Counter Extremism Project says extremist groups are continuing to plot attacks.
“The arrest of an ISIS-linked cell in Germany on April 15 is a reminder of that reality," it said. "The suspects were also reportedly involved in raising funds for their planned attacks, demonstrating that terror financing activities remain ongoing despite the economic slowdown.”
Ms Malik has also said the terrorist plots could target emergency workers during the Covid-19 outbreak.
"Regarding infrastructure – they will likely target hospitals or deliberately infect police officers," she said.
“In the United States, this is being prosecuted under terrorism legislation, due to intent.”
Spanish security forces raided a rented apartment on Tuesday morning after intelligence revealed Bary had recently entered the country.
He and two associates used the coronavirus outbreak to sneak into the country and wore surgical masks to disguise their appearance, officials said.
“National police officers have carried out an anti-terrorist operation that has culminated in the arrest in Almeria of one of the most wanted foreign terrorist fighters in Europe,” the General Directorate of Police said on Tuesday.
“The detainee spent several years in the Syrian-Iraqi conflict zone and has both very peculiar personality traits and an extremely violent criminal profile, which caught the attention of the European police and intelligence services.”
Bary, who was raised in London, once posed with a severed head in Syria and promised death to all westerners. He left Britain to join ISIS in 2013.
His father, Adel Abdel Bary Sr, believed to be closely linked to Osama bin Laden, was jailed in the US in 2015 over a plot to blow up an embassy in Africa.
He was extradited from the UK in 2012 and sentenced to 25 years for conspiring to kill Americans in the 1998 embassy bombings, which left 224 people dead.
Authorities are checking if the two others arrested in the Almeria raid with Bary had also returned from Syria.
They said the terrorist and his companions used strong security measures to try to avoid detection.
“After a complex investigation it was possible to determine the circumstances of his arrival on the Almeria coast, as well as his subsequent movements, finally achieving his location and arrest,” police said.
“Those arrested adopted ironclad security measures, both in their journey from North Africa to our territory and in the movements they made in Almeria.
“The detainees, once in Spain, adapted their behaviour to the situation as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, making few exits, leaving separately and always with masks to avoid being detected.
“The operation is still open and, at this time, intensive work is being done to verify the identity of the other two detainees and the ultimate reasons for their presence in Spain.”
Police said the operation served as a warning that despite the global crisis, international authorities are still working hard in the fight against terrorism.
“The investigation was carried out thanks to international co-operation when agents specialised in the fight against terrorism, in collaboration with the National Intelligence Centre, were working on the possibility that this foreign fighter intended to return to Europe through our territory,” police said.
“This operation is a sign that, despite the health crisis, the National Police and the judiciary continue to collaborate actively in the fight against terrorism.”