UN urges nations to be alert to increased radicalisation of children during pandemic

A rise in terrorist groups exploiting the pandemic has been detected as nations reduce security funding

HFE450 Still image taken from an ISIS propaganda video showing the Islamic State militants firing automatic weapons during a firefight outside Mosul December 2, 2016 near Nineveh, Iraq.
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Terrorist groups are exploiting the coronavirus pandemic and using online games in a bid to target children in lockdown, the UN’s counter-terrorism committee said.

It also reported a reduction in the monitoring of returning ISIS fighters.

In its latest report, the UN's Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) revealed it had seen an increase in the online radicalisation of children and warned countries to be alert.

Nations have reduced their funding of counter-terrorism initiatives, the monitoring group said, because of the pandemic and as a result less attention is being given to dangerous individuals.

"The pandemic has further reduced the degree of attention given to the security and humanitarian challenges posed by the detention conditions of ISIS-associated foreign terrorist fighters in prison settings and their family members in makeshift camps," it said.

“The situation of this second group of individuals, the vast majority of whom are women and children aged under five, already required urgent attention from the international community. However, this situation has been made even more urgent by reports of Covid-19 cases in the crowded camps that house ISIS-associated women and children in the Syrian Arab Republic and Iraq.

“With many Member States facing serious economic strain and focused on addressing the pandemic, CTED has witnessed a certain degree of retrenchment in counter-terrorism operations, including in the form of decreased funding for training and capacity-building projects, a decrease in security assistance, and the halting of peacebuilding, humanitarian, and development initiatives to counter violent extremism.”

It said terrorist groups have been using online games in a bid to target children in lockdown.

“Terrorists and violent extremists have continued to try to exploit the global increase in the use of the internet and social media caused by the pandemic to disseminate propaganda and misinformation and radicalise potential recruits to violence, including by attempting to spread violent extremism content through gaming platforms,” it said.

“Early evidence suggests that there may have been an increase in the number of youths and children accessing extremist content online, as they spend a significant amount of time away from school, employment, and other social activities, thereby creating concerns about potential radicalisation to terrorism.”

ISIS and Al Qaeda have continued to carry out attacks during the global crisis, however, the report said the impact of the pandemic on their “operational activities and strategic direction remains unclear”.

“CTED’s analysis suggests that, despite the continuation of terrorist violence and despite concerns that terrorists and violent extremists will seek to exploit Covid-19 in their recruitment processes, there remains little evidence upon which to base a comprehensive analysis of the impact of the pandemic on terrorism and violent extremism,” it said.

The report also said the financial disruptions caused by the pandemic might make terrorist groups more reliant on criminal activities, including drug smuggling, trafficking in minerals and precious stones, fraud through electronic means, the sale of counterfeit medicines and cybercrime.

It fears international travel restrictions could give rise to new trafficking and cash smuggling routes.

“The counter-terrorism community should seek to reimagine and address the threats of terrorism and violent extremism in a post-pandemic world,” it said.

“There is an urgent need to ensure enhanced governance that addresses existing conditions of inequality and fragility and restores trust in state institutions.”

Last year, Europe’s crime agency Europol said it had witnessed a rise in terrorist groups exploiting medicines used to treat Covid-19 patients.