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In the first quarter of this year, there was a 350% increase in phishing websites, many of which targeted and impeded hospitals and health systems in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN counterterrorism chief Vladimir Voronkov told the Security Council.

He noted that the upsurge in phishing sites was part of “a significant rise in cybercrime in recent months” reported by speakers at last month’s first Virtual Counterterrorism Week at the United Nations, AP reported.

He said that the UN and world experts still do not fully understand “the impact and consequences of the pandemic on global peace and security, and more specifically on organized crime and terrorism.”

“We know that terrorists are exploiting the significant disruption and economic hardships caused by COVID-19 to spread fear, hate and division and radicalize and recruit new followers,” Voronkov said. “The increase in internet usage and cybercrime during the pandemic further compounds the problem.”

He noted that the discussions showed a common understanding and concern that “terrorists are generating funds from illicit trafficking in drugs, goods, natural resources and antiquities, as well as kidnapping for ransom, extorting and committing other heinous crimes.”

UN member states “are rightly focused on tackling the health emergency and human crisis caused by COVID-19,” he said urging them not to forget the threat of terrorism.

According to Voronkov, in many parts of the world, “terrorists are exploiting local grievances and poor governance to regroup and assert their control.”

“The pandemic has the potential to act as a catalyst in the spread of terrorism and violent extremism by exacerbating inequalities, undermining social cohesion and fueling local conflicts,” Voronkov said. “We must continue our fight against terrorist groups and criminal networks to deny them the opportunity to exploit the COVID-19 crisis.”

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