Radical groups like Al-Qaeda using COVID-19 pandemic to push hate-filled agenda


Washington D.C.: The coronavirus pandemic, which has swept the world, perishing people and crippling economies, is being used as a tool by some global extreme right-wing organisations and radical Islamist groups ‘to advance their violent agendas.’

Several of these dreaded organisations, like the so-called Islamic State and Al-Qaeda, have stepped up their recruitment drive and started spreading hate-filled conspiracy theories about the virus, writes Souad Mekhennet, for The Washington Post, citing security officials and experts.

At such a crucial time, the radicals are exploiting the state of anxiety and “scapegoating Jews, blacks, immigrants, politicians, and law enforcement.”

Officials even warned that extremist groups may become emboldened at this time when governments and authorities are focused on the sweeping changes to societies and economies brought on by the coronavirus crisis.

Mekhennet, who covers national security, Middle East, North Africa, terrorism, Europe, further writes that officials say the extremist groups are terming the virus an “act of God against the enemies of Islam” and the pandemic a hoax- a crisis that is being “orchestrated by Jews or China.”

These radical groups are using the pandemic to project their extremist agenda, calling the virus “an act of God against the enemies of Islam.”

Experts also stated that Muslim extremist groups and far-right organisations are using online platforms to exploit the global virus outbreak.

One recent online extreme-right post listed chemical formulas for making toxic gases while the others have called for spreading the virus to Jews and black children, or encouraged sabotaging infrastructure to start race riots.

“The online messages of right-wing or jihadist terrorist organizations about COVID-19 to incite hate and the call for attacks are finding a receptive audience, and we cannot ignore the possible threat this might cause,” Washington Post quoted a European intelligence official, who did not wish to be named.

A recent statement by Al-Qaeda claims that the virus was a ” sign of God’s fury toward humanity for its sins and failure to adhere to God’s rules”. It urged Muslims to repent and fight against “the Crusader Enemy,” and condemned “the tyranny” of Muslim leaders and the “obscenity and moral corruption” sweeping majority-Muslim countries.

The Islamic State, in an editorial in an online magazine last month, the urged “lone-wolf” attacks to capitalise on the fear stemming out of COVID-19 spread worldwide.

Experts and security officials say they are concerned about the swell of calls from extremists to strike at a time when they believe they could get away with terrorist acts and not be detected.

Citing one of the incidents, the Post further quoted the security officials as saying that a man, who was planning to bomb a hospital where COVID-19 patients were being treated, was killed during a shootout by the FBI agents on March 24 in Belton, Missouri.

Officials further claimed that they have noticed an uptick in threats against targets in New York and surrounding areas — which have reported the maximum number of COVID-19 cases in the country.

Last month, the FBI told police agencies in New York that white supremacists intended to spray Jews and police officers with virus-infected bodily fluids.

The fact that people are under quarantine makes them safer from attacks, said Mitchell D. Silber, executive director of the Community Security Initiative, a program created to enhance the security of Jews in New York City.

In a letter sent to the faith-based community last week, the Department of Homeland Security urged religious leaders to keep security in mind when mass gatherings halted by the coronavirus begin resuming at houses of worship. While saying there were no imminent threats, the Department highlighted stress fuelled by the pandemic and a surge in online hate speech.

The message was especially sent ahead of major holidays that will be observed over the coming weeks. Passover began on Wednesday, Easter is on Sunday and Ramadan starts the following week.

Fearing that the pandemic, which has killed at least 108,770 people and infected as many as 1,779,099 others worldwide, will alter the way the world looks at terrorist threats. Rita Katz, executive director of the SITE Intelligence Group, said, “Ultimately, we need to start thinking of terrorism in these new contexts: public health,
disinformation, etc. While some of these threats may have seemed far-fetched a few months ago, we’re now learning every day what happens when governments don’t prepare for the worst.” (ANI)