It is no news that most governments are struggling to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. Things are no different with terrorists, who are often the de facto government in areas under their control.
Most terror groups are already feeling the heat of the first wave of the pandemic, and we expect things to get worse in the coming weeks. Affected terror groups are working hard to keep the virus under control, while those yet to suffer its deadly consequences are taking precautions.
Judging by current trends, it is already clear that the pandemic will disrupt the activities of most terror groups. Most have even been quiet of late. If you are following the news, you should have noticed the sudden reduction in terror activities across the world, particularly in regions grappling with the pandemic.
10 Taliban lifts ban on health workers and agrees to cooperate with WHO
The Taliban is infamous for killing health workers. In 2019, it killed 51 health workers and injured another 142, causing the recently disgraced World Health Organization (WHO) to shut down 192 health facilities across the country.
However, with the ongoing pandemic knocking on the doors of Afghanistan, the Taliban has realized it needs those health workers on its side. Twenty-two Afghans have tested positive for COVID-19 and the Taliban fears the figures could rise in the coming weeks.
A Taliban spokesperson said the group was ready to work with the now-disgraced WHO and other international health organizations to cleanse Afghanistan of the virus.
A second spokesperson said the group was already advising Afghans to listen to health workers and will force those who were not taking precautions to comply. He added that the group was considering suspending congregational prayers to slow the spread of the virus.
9 The Islamic State issues travel advisory to terrorists traveling to Europe
Until a few months ago, the Islamic State was calling on its members to travel to Europe for terrorism. With the COVID-19 pandemic already wrecking parts of Europe, the group has backtracked and warned fighters against traveling to Europe.
The Islamic State also discouraged members who heeded its earlier calls to travel to Europe from returning. The group was not holding them back so they can perform terror acts when conditions improve. It is just scared that they might bring the virus back home.
8 Hezbollah quarantines its leaders after they contracted the virus
Most of Hezbollah’s topmost commanders are already down with the COVID-19 virus. The infected commanders were exposed to the virus during a meeting with an Iranian government official. (Iran finances the group and its officials hold regular meetings with Hezbollah commanders.)
A few others including the group’s overall leader, Hassan Nasrallah, are in quarantine over concerns that they might have contracted the virus. Hassan also attended the meeting with the Iranian official. He has not been diagnosed with the virus, but the group isn’t taking chances.
7 Mahan Air continued flying to China
Mahan Air is a passenger airline. However, several countries consider it a terror group because of its close ties to the Iranian government and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The airline transports men and equipment of the IRGC. There are also indications that it is financing the group.
Mahan Air acted irresponsibly at the beginning of the pandemic. It ignored a government ban on airlines servicing the Iran-China route and continued flying into China. The airline only suspended flights into China in March, two months after the ban came into force.
That decision took its toll on the airline (and nation). Iran has one of the highest infection and death tolls in the region. Most of the infected people flew into the country on Mahan Air during the ban. Mahan Air even lost a pilot to the virus. There is no word whether other crew members were infected.
6 Hamas banned all gatherings and suspended congregational prayers
Hamas is the de facto government of the Gaza strip, a heavily populated region surrounded by Israel and Egypt. The region reported its first COVID-19 infections in March, when two men tested positive after returning from a trip to Pakistan.
The men traveled to Pakistan to attend a four-day Islamic program. Thousands of other people also attended the event, despite a Pakistani government ban on large gatherings.
In response, Hamas banned all gatherings and closed wedding halls, shops and restaurants within its territory. It also suspended funerals and congregational prayers. Hamas has also been quarantining thousands of people entering Gaza from neighboring territories.
5 Neo-Nazis plan to use it as a bioweapon
While most terrorist groups are taking preventive measures against contracting the COVID-19 virus, “White Racially Motivated Violent Extremists” (a government euphemism for the followers of Neo-Nazi James Mason) in the United States are planning to use it as a bioweapon. There is a catch to all this though. The WRMVEs will only go on with their plans if they contract the virus.
The Department of Homeland Security discovered their plans after intercepting their messages on messaging app Telegram. Members suggested filling their contaminated saliva in spray bottles and spraying it in non-white areas. They also considered spending time in public areas frequented non-whites.
WRMVEs also discussed plans to infect government workers with the virus by rubbing their saliva on door handles and elevator buttons in government buildings.
4 The Turkistan Islamic Party said it is God’s punishment to China
The Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) is a terror group based in Syria and Afghanistan. It has close ties to Al Qaeda and hopes to create an Islamic state in mainland China. Most of its members are tribesmen of the Chinese Muslim Uighur ethnic group.
The group released a video at the time the pandemic was ravaging China. The anchor said the virus was God’s punishment to China for oppressing Muslims, destroying mosques, burning Qurans and raping Muslim women. The anchor also chided Chinese citizens for eating wild animals. He added that he hoped the virus destroyed China.
3 Al-Shabab commanders held a meeting to discuss how to prevent COVID-19
Somalia is one of the poorest countries in the world. It also has one of the worst healthcare systems. The John Hopkins Global Health Security Index ranks the country’s healthcare system as 194 out of the 195 countries it reviews.
The situation has not improved even with the ongoing pandemic. The government lacks the capacity to test for the virus, and hospitals are turning sick people away because their facilities are inadequate to treat even the most basic health conditions.
People are not taking precautions either. Millions of Somalis still live in slums where sanitation is poor and there is no water. Conditions are no better in the cities, where people still shake hands and mingle freely.
In essence, the pandemic will be deadly in that region.
Al-Shabab is the dominant terror group in Somalia. The group has made no public statement regarding the virus, but its leaders have held meetings on how to prevent the virus from reaching their territory.
Like the Taliban, Al-Shabab is hostile to health workers and the situation is unlikely to change even if the pandemic reaches Somalia. However, analysts believe the group will allow people leave its territory to seek treatment in government-controlled areas if the situation gets out of hand.
2 The Palestinian Islamic Jihad cancels protests over COVID-19
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) is another terror group active in Palestine. The group organizes weekly protests to show its displeasure at Israel’s control of Palestinian lands. Once a year (on March 30), it holds a larger protest it calls the “Great march of return”.
However, the group canceled this year’s protest because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It advised residents to stay in their homes and observe the protest by flying Palestinian flags and burning Israel’s flags. The group added that it would stop traffic for an hour and fill its territory with the sounds of sirens. It also planned to hold a news conference for few attendees.
1 Islamic State tells members to pray
It is weird to imagine that the Islamic State will ever tell anyone to pray against anything. However, it told its members to pray against contracting COVID-19 when the virus first made news in January. The group later issued the travel ban when the pandemic spread to other parts of the world.
The Islamic State faulted the Chinese government for hiding details about the virus. It added that the death toll and infection rates were way above the 1,000 and 40,000 claimed by the Chinese government. It also accused China of lying about discharging people “cured” of the virus.
The Islamic State added that the virus was God’s punishment to China for its inhumane treatment of Chinese Muslims. However, it warned that the virus would spread out of China and infect innocent people in other countries. It was at this point that it advised its members to pray that the virus never reached their country.