Despite the archaic dogmas and obscurantist thinking underlying it, violent extremism has shown a great appetite for modernity, especially for technology when it serves its purposes. Extremists stigmatise modern society, but make use of its technological discoveries without reservation. Whether in the military or communications field, terrorists do not hesitate to use technology to support their ominous designs:
- Communication technology is used by extremists for the purposes of propaganda, recruitment, online training of their recruits, and coordination of their operations;
- It also allows extremists to increase their visibility and, when they wish, to benefit from anonymity and to communicate clandestinely, and to thwart the investigations of security services;
- Technological advances in military matters allow them to overcome the weaknesses of their military means and to better adapt to asymmetry.
State and regular security forces are characterised by their domination and supremacy in the classical fields of warfare (land space, air space and electronic warfare), insurgent movements, including violent extremism, invest more in human space, which is more vulnerable to psychological action and where cyber-technology plays an important role (see Jacques Baud, ‘’La Guerre asymétrique ou la Défaite du vainqueur’’ [Asymmetric Warfare and the Defeat of the Winner] 2003). For this reason, violent extremists seek to master communication technologies. However, this interest in communication techniques to address the populations does not prevent violent extremist groups from trying to control other technologies.
Violent extremism is not limited to the use and exploitation of technological advances in the field of information and communication technology alone. Technology related to certain military sectors is not exempt from the interest and lust of violent extremist groups. These sectors include ballistics and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).
In the late 1980s, the United States, France, Great Britain, Italy, Japan and Germany had initiated the MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime), which constitutes guidelines for the control of exports of missiles, specific components and certain associated production tools. While this regime was aimed at controlling ballistic proliferation within countries, the MTCR sponsors were certainly also concerned with preventing any possible acquisition of ballistic technologies by terrorist organisations. This effort does not seem to have been so effective because, today, not only have some countries succeeded to acquire high ballistic technology capabilities, but also certain violent extremist organisations, such as the Lebanese Hezbollah.
An example of the ambition of terrorist groups to acquire ballistic technologies also comes from Islamic State (IS). At the time of its occupation of parts of the territories in Iraq and Syria, IS sought to produce certain missiles of different ranges. It is in this context that, in February 2017, an Australian was arrested and taken into custody after being accused of having helped Islamic State to develop production capacities for anti-missile systems and ‘‘high-tech’’ missiles. The Australian Federal Police at the time stated that the man had designed both a laser warning system to detect incoming munitions and long-range guided missiles for the terrorist organisation.
The same is true for UAV-related technologies. As early as 2015, Islamic State had instructed its ‘’Al Barae ben Malik’’ brigade to set up a unit dedicated to the armament of UAVs purchased via the Internet and built by the terrorist organisation, and intended to improve the lethality of these devices. By 2017, the number of UAV attacks launched against the Syrian and Iraqi armies had significantly increased. The protection of technological data is indeed a task that countries should prioritise in the fight against terrorism.
Fighting violent extremism cannot be confined to tracking down extremists and taking police and military measures to arrest or neutralise terrorists. Efforts must also focus on protecting the knowledge and information that they use as a means to carry out their designs and actions. While intelligence services are fighting against extremism by gathering information that can help in anticipating attacks or dismantling networks, it is also a priority to entrust them with the mission of protecting data, especially technological data, that can be stolen or exploited by the supporters of violent extremism.
The challenge facing the world during COVID-19 has prompted global efforts in medical and pharmaceutical technologies. Violent extremist groups may be tempted to acquire these technologies, divert them from their humanitarian goals and use them for harmful and damaging purposes. This area of technology could become a future target for extremist activities, and scientific efforts in this area must, like all other technologies, be protected.