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Richard Jackson: Terrorism in the post-pandemic era and its impact on the 22nd Winter Olympics

Updated: Jan 6, 2023

Richard Jackson, Professor at the University of Otago

Richard Jackson is a professor at the University of Otago, director of the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (NCPACS) and editor-in-chief of the Journal Forensic Studies of Terrorism. His research interests include pacifism and non-violence, critical terrorism studies, the social construction of war and other forms of organized political violence, international conflict resolution, and political development in African countries.

Terrorism in the post-pandemic era and its impact on the 22nd Winter Olympics

1. In the background of COVID-19, it is highly likely that terrorist organizations and terrorists will take advantage of this global health disaster to create chaos and attack the countries or regions hit hard by the pandemic. What do you think the impact of COVID-19 on terrorism and counter-terrorism?

I am not convinced that terrorist groups will seek to take advantage of the global health crisis to cause more chaos, because they are rational actors pursuing a political goal, not mindless attackers simply aiming to cause chaos. Attacking while there is a health crisis could lead to a loss of support for terrorist groups, and would not advance their political goals. At the same time, the national lockdowns and increased security measures by the authorities make it more difficult for terrorist groups to operate effectively. In reality, what we have seen since the start of the pandemic is the authorities using public health concerns to increase social control and surveillance, and crack down on political dissent. The likelihood of increased state terrorism is probably higher under global pandemic conditions.

2. With the development of cyber technology, terrorists start to use Internet to carry out attacks, collect information and propagandize. How do you view the phenomenon of cyber terrorism?

I think the evidence that information technology has had a significant effect on terrorism is unclear, and the claims of an increased risk of cyber-terrorism are exaggerated. There are virtually no examples of cyber-terrorist attacks, but a great many cyber-criminal attacks. There is also no strong evidence that individuals can be radicalised online, in the absence of a great many other non-internet factors. There's also little evidence that terrorist attacks are organised through the internet. In fact, state surveillance of the internet and measures to counter-act terrorist content online mean that terrorist groups have to take a great many counter-measures when using the internet, and attacks have to be organised off-line in order to avoid detection.

3. China is going to hold Beijing Winter Olympic Games in 2022. Do you think there is a security risk of terrorist attack in Beijing Winter Olympic Games?

There is a small risk, but historically, terrorist groups have rarely attacked large global sporting events. This is partly because there are always a lot of strong security measures in place, but also because terrorists know that such an attack would risk a backlash and the loss of support from their own people. Terrorists are rational actors who calculate what political benefits they will get from an attack; the Olympics only provide limited possibilities for political advantage.

4. With a lot of personnel and tourists from all over the world, how to keep a large-scale international event like this safe from terrorist attack?

The authorities have a lot of measures and strategies they can employ for public security, particularly a state like China which has a massive military and security apparatus, large resources, and few constraints on violating the human rights of protestors, dissidents or opponents. In fact, the Olympic Games in China will likely be the most secure games in history, given China's degree of social control.

Interviewer: Zhao LAN

Interview date: June 13, 2021



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