ISIS attacks limited by coronavirus lockdowns, says UN

ISIS still has an estimated 10,000 fighters between Iraq and Syria alone

A grab from an undated video released by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan shows Hafiz Saeed, the leader of ISIS in Afghanistan who was killed in a US air strike in 2016. EPA/TTP
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Coronavirus lockdowns appear to have reduced the threat of ISIS attacks in many countries, but the risk is greater in Iraq and Syria, a UN official said Monday.

While ISIS is now a shadow of the organisation that occupied large chunks of Iraq and Syria just a few years ago, it still has an estimated 10,000 fighters between those two countries.

However, movement curbs against the virus pandemic have reduced ISIS's ability to launch raids elsewhere.

"Measures to minimise the spread of Covid-19, such as lockdowns and restrictions on movement, seem to have reduced the risk of terrorist attacks in many countries," said Vladimir Voronkov, undersecretary general for counter-terrorism.

He did not specify which nations, but ISIS has claimed attacks in countries ranging from France to the Philippines.

Mr Voronkov said the pandemic's impact on the group's recruitment and finances is unclear, though the threat of cybercrime as a funding source has increased as more people are online due to the contagion.

He added there is evidence ISIS are regrouping in conflict zones like Iraq and Syria.

Yet for the moment, authorities have not seen a clear indication of a strategy change under new leader Amir Mohammed Said Abd Al Rahman Al Mawla, who replaced Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi after his death in a raid by US special forces in October.

A former officer in the army of Saddam Hussein, Mawla joined the ranks of Al Qaeda after the US invasion of Iraq and Hussein's capture in 2003, according to the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) think-tank.

Mr Voronkov also provided an update on the group's activities elsewhere, saying ISIS has an estimated 3,500 fighters in West Africa, and has continued to build ties with local extremist groups.

In Libya, ISIS fighters are in the hundreds, but the group remains a threat to the region.

It also has capacity to launch devastating attacks in parts of Afghanistan, despite the arrest of some leaders and the loss of some of its territory, Mr Voronkov said.