Iraq News

Virus lockdowns limit ISIS attacks in many nations: UN  



Syrian engineers repair a pipeline between Adra and al-Dhamir in the Damascus region on August 24th after it was reportedly a site of a 'terrorist' attack that caused a nationwide blackout the day before. [Louai Beshara/AFP]

Coronavirus lockdowns appear to have reduced the threat of "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) attacks in many countries, but the risk is greater in Iraq and Syria, a UN official said Monday (August 24th).

While ISIS is now a shadow of the group that overran swathes of Iraq and Syria a few years ago, it still has an estimated 10,000 fighters in those two countries.

But movement curbs against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) 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, under secretary general for counter-terrorism.

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

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 elements 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 October.

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 elements number only in the hundreds, but the group remains a threat to the region.

The group 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, Voronkov said.

Blackout in Syria

The Syrian regime on Monday blamed a "terrorist" attack on a gas pipeline near Damascus for a nationwide blackout.

US special envoy for Syria James Jeffrey said the US was still looking into who was responsible for the pipeline attack, but said "it was almost certainly a strike by ISIS".

ISIS retains a presence in the vast Badia region (desert) east of the capital.

"In Syria, particularly the Badia desert south of the Euphrates... we are seeing an upsurge of ISIS activity," he said.

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