Terrorists attempting to use Covid pandemic to spread fear and polarize societies across the EU – Europol
The EU’s policing agency, Europol, has warned that the pandemic is being exploited by terrorists “to spread hate propaganda and exacerbate mistrust”, in its report examining the threat of extremism throughout the bloc.
Looking at the impact of Covid-19 on terrorism, Europol officials highlighted the threat posed by individuals who are seeking to use the chaos caused by the pandemic to “erode democratic structures, spread fear and polarize society.”
Throughout the year, 57 terrorist attacks were either completed, failed or foiled in EU member states, causing 21 fatalities, and resulting in 449 arrests on suspicion of terrorism-related offenses.
The impact of the global pandemic “further accelerated” the polarization of political discourse in the EU, according to the Europol report, with terrorists attempting to take advantage of this development to “pollute the social climate with violent ideologies.”
Addressing the findings, both Ylva Johansson, the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, and Catherine De Bolle, the Executive Director of Europol, cited the increased use of digital activity by terrorists to promote extremist views.
“In a world, which has become considerably more digital, targeting the propagation of hatred and violent ideologies spread online is an imperative,” De Bolle said in a press release.
The agency says its annual report on terrorism uses information provided by authorities across the 27 member states to compile a picture of the situation throughout the EU, including data on attacks and related arrests.
This is the second report in recent weeks to warn that the Covid pandemic has increased the risk of terrorism, with the UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee stating that the outbreak is “likely to have increased the underlying drivers and structural factors that are often conducive to terrorism.”
US authorities have apparently seized the web domains of Iran’s international media outlets Press TV and Al-Alam, along with the Yemeni TV channel Al Masirah, run by the Houthi faction, and an Iraqi Shia satellite channel.Visitors to the three domains were greeted on Tuesday with a notice that they were seized under US laws that allow civil and criminal forfeiture of property involved in “trafficking in nuclear, chemical, biological, or radiological weapons technology or material, or the manufacture, importation, sale, or distribution of a controlled substance.”
The seizure notice by the US Department of Justice also invokes a law governing presidential authority in dealing with “unusual and extraordinary threat; declaration of national emergency,” which includes the Iran Nonproliferation Amendments Act of 2005 and the ironically named Iran Freedom Support Act of 2006.
Launched in July 2007, Press TV is the international English-language service of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), Tehran’s state media agency. Al-Alam goes back to 2003 and is broadcast in Arabic, Farsi and English to audiences in the Middle East and the Mediterranean.
Al-Masirah is not owned by Iran, but by Ansarullah – the movement of the Houthis in Yemen, a faction the US has accused of being “proxies” of Iran on account of them being Shia Muslims and resisting the invasion of Yemen by Saudi Arabia since 2015. The TV channel is headquartered in Beirut, Lebanon.
Neither the US nor the Iranian authorities have commented on the seizures just yet. Meanwhile, the NGO Yemen Solidarity Council (YSC) condemned “the deliberate silencing of the Yemeni voice by the American regime.”
In a statement released through the YSC, Al Masirah said it was “not surprised” by the apparent seizure, as it “comes from those that have supervised the most heinous crimes against our people.”
The“ban” on the website “reveals, once again, the falsehood of the slogans of freedom of expression and all the other headlines promoted by the United States of America, including its inability to confront the truth,” the outlet said.
PressTV only said that a seizure message has appeared "on the websites of a series of Iranian and regional television networks" in "what seems to be a coordinated action."
Another site that displayed the seizure notice on Tuesday was that of Al Forat Network, an Iraqi satellite TV outlet owned by a Shia Muslim cleric and politician Ammar al-Hakim.
In the absence of any official word, there has been speculation that the domains may have been hacked instead. Furthermore, the seizures appear to have affected only the .com and .net domains that are under US jurisdiction. PressTV remains available at the .ir domain.
Washington’s apparent move comes just a day after the newly elected Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi urged the US to lift all sanctions on Tehran and rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal, negotiated by the Obama administration but unilaterally repudiated by President Donald Trump in 2018.
Raisi called on the US to “live up to your commitments” in the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). He also said the Iranian ballistic missile program was “not up for negotiation.”
While the Trump administration took a hard-line approach to Iran, imposing unprecedented sanctions and even assassinating a senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) general – resulting in Iranian missile strikes against US bases in Iraq – it never moved against legitimate media outlets.
Back in October 2020, the Trump administration seized 92 domains accused of being “fake news” outlets waging a “disinformation campaign” on behalf of the IRGC. The seizure was overshadowed by sanctions against the Iranian banking sector announced the same day, however.
The Biden administration was thought to be open for relaxing tensions. Just last week, Iranian negotiators said they had reached a deal with their US counterparts to lift the Trump-era sanctions.
Cuba’s Soberana 2 vaccine candidate has shown 62% efficacy with just two of its three doses, state-run biopharmaceutical corporation BioCubaFarma said on Saturday, citing preliminary data from late phase trials.
Cuba, whose biotech sector has exported vaccines for decades, has five vaccine candidates in clinical trials, of which two – Soberana 2 and Abdala – are in late phase trials.
“In a few weeks we should have the results for the efficacy with three doses which we expect will be superior,” said Vicente Vérez, director of the state-run Finlay Vaccine Institute, which developed Soberana 2.
The news comes as the Caribbean’s largest island is facing its worst outbreak since the start of the pandemic in the wake of the arrival of more contagious variants, setting new records of daily coronavirus cases.
The Communist-run country has opted not to import foreign vaccines but rather to rely on its own. Experts say it is a risky bet but if it pays off, Cuba could burnish its scientific reputation, generate much-needed hard currency through exports and strengthen the vaccination drive worldwide.
“We know our government has not been able to provide this project all the funding it required, and nonetheless this is a result of global standing,” President Miguel Diaz-Canel said at the presentation of the results on state-run television.
Several countries from Argentina and Jamaica to Mexico and Venezuela have expressed an interest in buying Cuba’s vaccines. Iran started producing Soberana 2 earlier this year as part of late-phase clinical trials.
Cuba’s authorities have started administering the experimental vaccines en masse as part of “intervention studies” they hope will slow the spread of the virus.
Daily cases have halved in the capital since the start of this vaccination campaign, according to official data, although that may also be due to stricter lockdown measures.
AstraZeneca Plc’s (AZN.L) COVID-19 vaccine is effective against Delta and Kappa variants, which were first identified in India, the company said on Tuesday, citing a study.
The study by the Oxford University investigated the ability of monoclonal antibodies in blood from recovered people and from those vaccinated to neutralize the Delta and Kappa variants, the statement said.
Last week, an analysis by the Public Health England (PHE) showed that vaccines made by Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) and AstraZeneca offer high protection of more than 90% against hospitalization from the Delta variant.
The latest Oxford study results are built on the recent analysis by PHE, the company said.
The Delta variant is becoming the globally dominant version of the disease, the World Health Organization’s chief scientist said on Friday.