The worldwide spread of COVID-19 has, so far, had limited impact on the activities of armed Islamist and jihadist groups. However, these groups have started disseminating educational materials to their soldiers on how to prevent contagion.
The Islamic State: Exploit the Crisis
The Islamic State (IS) dedicated its last two issues of its weekly magazine Al-Naba to address the issue.
Issue 225 of Al-Naba, released on 12 March, featured an infographic entitled Shari’a Directives to Deal with Epidemics, which included various hadiths about Prophet Muhammad and instructions on how to prevent the contagion of its militiamen.
The following issue, released on 19 March, featured an editorial entitled, The Worst Nightmare of the Crusaders, which depicted two Italian soldiers with masks. The editorial encouraged its followers to take advantage of the vulnerabilities that many countries are currently facing and carry out more attacks on the West. It argues: “The last thing they (the Crusaders) want is for their current tribulations with the pandemic to coincide with the attacks in their own countries like the attacks in Paris, London and Brussels”. In the same editorial, coronavirus was described as the torment sent by Allah to his enemies.
Meanwhile, pro-IS channels on Telegram have also been widely discussing the coronavirus epidemic. The prominent IS-aligned channel GreenBirds released a picture of the virus with a caption reading “Soldier of Allah”.
Al-Qaeda: Remains Quiet
As of 21 March, neither Al-Qaeda nor any of its affiliates have released any official statements on the coronavirus. However, an Al-Qaeda-aligned news agency — Thabat Media Agency — published an article written by Khalid al-Sibai entitled, Corona: Annihilation of the Unjust and a Testimony of the Believers. The piece describes Muslims who have died from the virus as martyrs and calls on Al-Qaeda affiliates to exploit the current situation by carrying out more attacks against their enemies.
Islamist-Nationalists: A Punishment from God
The Turkestan Islamic Party’s (TIP) Media Channel — Islam Awazi — released a video entitled The Perspective of the Mujahidin Regarding the Corona Outbreak in China. In the video, a TIP spokesman described the coronavirus outbreak as another punishment sent by Allah against the “tyrants” who oppress believers, referring to the Chinese government’s repression of the Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang. The video also pointed out that the virus originated in a market (in Wuhan) where animals prohibited for consumption by the Qur’an were being sold.
Meanwhile in Gaza, both Hamas and Islamic Jihad have expressed concern over the health conditions of their prisoners inside Israeli jails — urging Israel to take care of them. Hamas also released a video explaining how it intends to build an isolation center to manage a possible coronavirus outbreak in Gaza.
The Taliban: Opportunism
The Taliban or “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” (IEA), as it calls itself, has released three official statements on the COVID-19 outbreak. Similar to Gaza-based Islamist movements, the Taliban has urged the Afghan government to protect Taliban prisoners inside of its jails. More importantly, the Taliban has called for “health and humanitarian organizations [to] execute their obligation of sending necessary equipment, medicine and aid to areas under our control”, and promised security for such aid workers.
The Taliban has also released a statement extending its sincere condolences to the Supreme Leader and the people of Iran, expressing its deep concern about the alleged mistreatment of Iran-based Afghan refugees.
Iranian Controlled Shi’a Jihadists: An American Conspiracy
Meanwhile, Shiite militant groups controlled by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in Iraq, Syria, and Bahrain are claiming that the coronavirus is a plot orchestrated by the United States. Also, Al-Adl website — the mouthpiece of the Shi’a opposition in Bahrain — claims that Bahrain’s King poses a greater threat than the virus.
Afghan and Pakistani IRGC-controlled Shi’a militias in Syria — Liwa Fatemiyoun and Liwa Zenabiyoun — shared their directives on how to prevent the contagion even though Syria claims it has recorded no positive cases as of 21 March.
In Iraq, the Saraya al-Salam militia headed by Shi’a cleric Moqtada al Sadr has been sanitizing local buildings in the Diyala and Baghdad provinces. Meanwhile, IRGC-run Harakat al-Nujaba, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, and the Badr Organization have released a picture of US President Donald Trump playing golf with coronavirus while he tries to hit the IRGC’s “Axis of the Resistance” and China.
It is possible that the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda will use the COVID-19 crisis to instigate more fear in Western countries, and the more localist Islamist and jihadist groups — the Taliban and Hamas, for example — plus Iran’s Shi’a militias will likely use the insecurity to strengthen their grip on the local populations, taking advantage of political-security vacuums to present themselves as credible actors.
European Eye on Radicalization aims to publish a diversity of perspectives and as such does not endorse the opinions expressed by contributors. The views expressed in this article represent the author alone.