TERRORISMUkraine War: Will the Islamic State Benefit?

By Cathrin Schaer

Published 18 May 2022

The terrorist group has said it will take advantage of the fact that the West is distracted by war in Ukraine. But any advantage it will get from the war likely has less to do with terrorism, and more with economics.

In the middle of last month, the extremist group known as the “Islamic State” issued a threat. The group announced “a blessed campaign to take revenge” after their leader was killed in a US military raid in Syria in February.

At the same time, the extremist group, which controlled around a third of Syria and Iraq at the height of its powers, also called on supporters to take advantage of opportunities presented by the war in Ukraine. While “infidel” Western nations were preoccupied, “Islamic State” supporters could attack, the message suggested.

Meanwhile, a magazine openly supporting al-Qaeda — another similar extremist organization that the IS group distanced itself from in 2013 — proposed that its supporters somehow get hold of weapons being handed out to civilians in Ukraine, then use them against Europeans.

As yet the idea of launching terrorist attacks while the West is distracted by Ukraine does not appear to have caught on in Europe. The IS group has around a dozen affiliate groups in different regions, from Africa to Asia, and most of the violence attributable to it is currently being perpetuated in Africa.

But there is another way that war in Ukraine might benefit IS, al-Qaeda and potentially even other extremist organizations, experts have said.

Exploiting Social Unrest
Extremists will try to exploit “a new wave of social unrest resulting from the high cost of living in societies severely affected by the [COVID-19] pandemic and then the repercussions of the crisis in Ukraine,” Ezzat Ibrahim Youssef, editor-in-chief of Egyptian weekly, Al Ahram, warned recently in a report for the Abu Dhabi think tank, Trends Research.

During this month’s Morocco meeting of the international coalition to combat the IS group, the head of the 22-nation Arab League issued a similar alert. The consequences of the war and climate change could be exploited by groups like IS, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, a veteran Egyptian diplomat, cautioned.

Basically, the repercussions of the war in Europe are adding another layer of difficulty in countries with preexisting crises. Grain shortages, rising petrol and food prices, inflation and the fact that some aid organizations are now more focused on Ukraine are among the extra problems that countries like Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen must deal with.