The COVID-19 Pandemic: A Preliminary Assessment of the Impact on Terrorism in Western States

James K. Wither
Content Type
Working Paper
George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies
The paper analyzes the terrorism threat against western states during the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and, in particular, whether the crisis has created particular vulnerabilities that terrorists could exploit both to mount attacks and attract new recruits. The paper also explores the extent to which the pandemic might make western societies more vulnerable to terrorism in the longer term. Salafi-jihadist and far-right extremists have greeted the COVID-19 crisis with enthusiasm, viewing its impact on the West as both vindicating and advancing their ideologies and objectives. However, despite the calls for attacks on social media, the pandemic’s lockdowns, increased surveillance, travel restrictions, and the heavy police and military presence on the ground have created a challenging environment for terrorist operations. The security services have been drawn directly into the campaign against the corona virus. This has diverted resources and assets away from counterterrorism duties in the short term, which might create potential opportunities for terrorists. As a result of the pandemic, governments will need to review national security priorities in the longer term. This is likely to result in a much greater emphasis on domestic and international public health issues. Counterterrorism may not retain its post 9/11 position in the hierarchy of western national security priorities.
Security, Terrorism, Public Health, Pandemic, COVID-19
Political Geography
Global Focus