Update on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on terrorism, counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism



CTED has been at the forefront of efforts to monitor and evaluate the impacts of the pandemic on terrorism, counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism (CVE), including through its two previous analytical reports. CTED’s analysis of key trends was informed by its dialogue with Member States – including during hybrid assessment visits conducted on behalf of the Counter-Terrorism Committee – and with international and regional organizations. 


The report combines this information with data collected by CTED through a survey of its partners, aimed at gathering their views on the potential long-term impacts of the pandemic. The survey was sent to a selection of United Nations agencies and offices, civil society organizations (CSOs), member entities of the CTED Global Research Network (GRN), and private-sector organizations.






A view of the installation ‘Pandemic Classroom’ at United Nations Headquarters to call attention to the need for governments to prioritize the reopening of schools. Schools have been completely closed for more than 168 million children globally during almost an entire year due to COVID-19 lockdowns. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Select List of Global Participants for the COVID-19 Survey

Key Findings

Geographic Impacts and Case Studies

Global impacts

Growing frustration, mistrust, and anger at COVID-19 restrictions among the populations of many States and economic hardships (including rising unemployment, poverty, growing inequality, and food insecurity) are all potential drivers for an increase in the terrorist threat. The pandemic has also restricted access to education worldwide, reducing the educational and employment prospects for youth and potentially weakening their resilience against violent extremist discourse. 


Exacerbation of social and community tensions

Pandemic-related impacts have created a volatile socio-economic climate in States already facing intercommunal tensions. There have been increasing instances of violent anti-lockdown protests by groups that advocate anti-Government and anti-establishment ideologies. Minority groups have also been impacted by the pandemic, as online misinformation/disinformation and conspiracy theories target vulnerable communities and seek to exploit pre-existing social and communal tensions. 

Refugees, Internally Displaced Persons, and Returnees

The pandemic has exacerbated already unsustainable conditions in refugee and IDP camps and in detention camps in Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic housing ISIL-affiliated women and children. These populations face both a heightened danger of health complications from the pandemic and growing risks of radicalization to violence. COVID-19 has also severely impacted rehabilitation and reintegration programmes globally, including in States that have returned their citizens from the Middle East.


Economic challenges

Most States have faced a severe contraction in economic activity (notably those dependent on international tourism), leaving fewer resources to respond to their population’s needs and in some cases, reductions in national or multilateral counter-terrorism and CVE resourcing. This trend is particularly worrying where terrorist groups challenge the State’s already weakened presence and authority, especially if such groups can instrumentalize economic and social conditions to expand to newer territories.


Humanitarian crises

The pandemic has amplified both the underlying causes of insecurity and conflict and the social and economic inequalities that drive humanitarian needs, while also increasing the gap between needs and available resources. The redirection of funds from humanitarian priorities to COVID-19 responses could have a negative impact on already vulnerable populations. The potential misuse or unnecessary extension of emergency powers may also exacerbate existing trends regarding the shrinking of the humanitarian space.

Vaccinations and the way forward

Although the development and deployment of COVID-19 vaccination programmes continues apace, growing vaccination inequalities and divides have emerged. Member States facing conflict and a heightened terrorist threat typically face pre-existing issues of insecurity, governance challenges, and capacity gaps. This will be compounded by lack of access to, and procurement of, vaccines, making it harder for such States to combat and contain the pandemic. Unequal access might also exacerbate issues relating to economic and social inequities, potentially increasing existing grievances.