Covid-19 pandemic may increase risk of violent extremism spreading, says expert who counsels radicals

The pandemic has raised the chances of people being radicalised because many are now spending more time online.
The pandemic has raised the chances of people being radicalised because many are now spending more time online.PHOTO: PEXELS

SINGAPORE - There is increasing danger of violent extremism spreading as global communities struggle to curb the spread of Covid-19, a Muslim religious teacher and terrorism expert involved in rehabilitating radicals in Singapore has said.

The pandemic has raised the chances of people being radicalised because many are now spending more time online as they work or learn from home and interact with others via social media, said the vice-chairman of the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), Dr Mohamed Ali.

He noted that this danger is especially pronounced among the youth, who spend more time on the internet.

"With the proliferated use of online communications to adhere to strict social distancing measures, youth are spending even more time online, especially on social media. In the same beat, Covid-19 has changed how terrorist organisations, security agencies and society operate globally," said Dr Mohamed.

He said that terror groups will take advantage of this to spread their ideas.

Dr Mohamed was speaking at a virtual event on Saturday (Oct 10) that the RRG organised for students from institutes of higher learning in Singapore.

The event, held via video conferencing platform Zoom and streamed live via Facebook and Instagram, was attended by about 740 people. It featured dialogues and talks by Islamic religious teachers and the Deputy Mufti of Singapore, Dr Hannan Hassan.

Launched in 2003, the RRG is a non-profit group that trains religious teachers to counsel those influenced or been misguided by radical teachings. It also conducts workshops on countering extremist ideology in schools and mosques.

Since 2002, more than 130 individuals found to have been involved in terrorism-related activities have been dealt with in Singapore.

But Covid-19 has brought forth new challenges in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism.

In August, the United Nation's Undersecretary-General for its counter-terrorism office, Mr Vladimir Voronkov, said the global pandemic "raises several strategic and practical challenges for counter-terrorism".

For instance, terror groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are launching more "opportunistic propaganda efforts", fuelling an ongoing trend of attacks by individuals and small groups, he said.

During the event on Saturday Dr Mohamed called on youths and participants of the RRG's Awareness Programme for Youths (APY) to rally together to spread positive messages to the Muslim community and to reject violent extremism.

He said: "The spread of radical narratives online makes youths more vulnerable to online radicalisation. In this regard, the work of the RRG and the APY in reaching out to youth… is extremely important."