The Islamic State eyes renewal during coronavirus pandemic

For the Islamic State (IS), the coronavirus pandemic is a “godsend,” and an act of divine intervention at a time when the terrorist movement had reached its lowest ebb, reports Michael Knights in Poltico (April 4, 2020). He cites the IS’ newsletter, Al-Naba, which called coronavirus “God’s torment” upon the “Crusader nations,” and urged fighters to take advantage of the disruption caused by the virus. In many ways, the Islamic State is quite well suited for operations during a pandemic, as its cells are isolated, “avoiding the risk of contamination by performing extreme social distancing long before the rest of us. Its leadership issued early instructions to its cadres to limit their exposure to the virus—from the CDC-approved recommendations (washing hands and ‘covering up’ coughs and sneezes) to Koranic verses involving lions and leprosy.”

Knights adds that IS members are somewhat self-contained, living in remote hideouts and underground shelters, drawing on caches of food and water while running their electronic devices with solar battery chargers. “In every sense of the phrase, the thousands of members of this millenarian terrorist cult are the ultimate doomsday preppers. On the ground, there have been small signs of Islamic State recovery at the tactical level, probably due to the cessation of counterinsurgency operations targeting them. Left to operate without pressure, the IS growing more active at the local level, which was the way the movement sought to build its version of the Islamic caliphate village by village. But while the pandemic has accelerated the withdraw of the U.S. from Iraq, in “places as diverse as Yemen, Somalia, Mali and Syria, the U.S. Special Operations Command has employed quiet partnerships with local special forces and paramilitary proxies to take on terrorist cells in a more targeted and effective manner than the large-scale train-and-equip program that appears to be eroding in Iraq.”