The Norwegian military forces in Iraq warn that Daesh* (ISIS/ISIL) terrorists are taking advantage of the challenges posed by the novel coronavirus and the group is in the process of rebuilding.
“It is a paradox that the virus that pacifies others has led to a boom for Daesh, with further terrorist attacks,” Colonel Lieutenant Stein Grongstad told the newspaper Verdens Gang.
“We feel that they have an attack strategy that consists of better planning and that they are specifically targeting Iraqi forces that are not currently coordinated to the same extent as before the virus struck. Daesh make use of road bombs, possesses advanced explosives, and utilise heavier arms. They also know how to use the terrain in the border areas to their advantage. In April, there were 20 Daesh attacks on Iraqi forces in Anbar province alone,” Grongstad said.
The Norwegian Telemark battalion is stationed in Iraq to train Iraqi soldiers to deal with the terrorist threat. In recent months, they have been unable to have physical contact with the Iraqi military due to measures to stop the spread of the pandemic, whereas Daesh remain mostly in agricultural areas and are not particularly exposed to the infection.
Furthermore, prisoners have been released from prisons, including Daesh sympathisers. According to Verdens Gang, Daesh are getting new recruits from former convicts and opened refugee camps.
An Iraqi general emphasised that Daesh have dormant cells that carry out attacks before disappearing again and use the so-called “hit-and-run” strategy.
“Iraq is under pressure from several sides. The country is under financial pressure, is in a political crisis, and then the coronavirus came to the country. Daesh are using everything they can to spread their terror,” General Tahseen al-Khafagy, spokesman for the Iraqi Joint Operation Command, told the newspaper Klassekampen.
According to al-Khafagy, Daesh are “insignificantly small”, but base their activities on individual attacks.
“Daesh pose a threat even if the organisation is territorially defeated. Both Daesh and al-Qaeda* are more easily getting a foothold where government control is lacking, or where instability prevails,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide said earlier this spring, admitting that she feared a Daesh return.
According to Michael Krona, the author of “The Media World of ISIS”, this spring has seen a significant increase in online jihadi activity.
After high profile #IS attacks in recent years in Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Nice etc., there were always an uptick in new jihadi channels and opportunism to get further support.— Michael Krona (@GlobalMedia_) April 27, 2020
During #Corona in last month there has been a similar significant increase in activity online.
Daesh, which calls itself the “Islamic State”, is an extremist group that in the summer of 2014 took over large parts of Iraq and Syria and proclaimed an Islamist caliphate. At its height it had control over a third of Iraq's territory, but the terrorists were defeated, having lost Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria. Following the defeat of Daesh, tens of thousands of their soldiers were captured and held in the al-Hol camp in Syria.
According to the Center for Strategy and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington-based think tank, there are between 20,000 to 25,000 Daesh soldiers in Iraq and Syria.
* Daesh (ISIS/ISIL/“Islamic State”) and al-Qaeda are terrorist organisations banned in Russia and other countries