Groups affiliated with Al Qaeda and ISIS are using the COVID-19 pandemic to spread conspiracy theories that the virus is “punishing the infidels,” “God’s wrath on the West,” and encouraging terrorists to use it as a form of biological weapon according to a UN report.
The report, entitled “Stop the Virus of Disinformation: Malicious Use of Social Media by Terrorist, Violent Extremist and Criminal Groups During the COVID-19 Pandemic”, was released on Wednesday by the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI).
It is said that criminals and violent extremists are taking advantage of the pandemic to build their support networks, undermine trust in the government and even arm the virus. The report added that terrorist, violent extremist and organized criminal groups have maliciously used social media to spread conspiracy theories about the origin of COVID-19.
“Groups associated with ISIL and Al Qaeda have also spread conspiracy theories claiming that the virus is a ‘soldier of Allah’ punishing the infidels and enemies who have harmed Muslims in recent years. For example, ISIL and Al Qaeda claimed the virus was God’s wrath on the West, “the report said.
Similarly, Al-Shabaab stated that coronavirus disease is being spread by the “crusader troops that have invaded the country and the infidel countries that support them,” the report said.
The Global Fatwa Index has identified COVID-19-related messages from groups associated with ISIS and Al Qaeda, including unofficial fatwas that have urged ISIS members who have signed COVID-19 to be ” biological bombs “act by” deliberately spreading the disease “among the organization’s enemies,” it said.
UNICRI Director Antonia Marie De Meo wrote in the introduction to the report that it is “alarming that some terrorist and violent extremist groups have tried to abuse social media to encourage potential terrorists to deliberately spread COVID-19 and use it to use as an improvised form of. ” a biological weapon. “
“There are instances where right-wing extremist groups … have specifically asked their supporters to spread the virus by coughing on their local minority or by taking care of certain places where religious or racial minorities congregate. Other groups .. . Advocate the spread of the coronavirus disease virus in countries with large populations or high levels of pollution, “the report said.
It is also noted that the case of “inspired terrorism” was that of Timothy Wilson, who planned to detonate a bomb at a hospital to detonate coronavirus patients in Kansas City. He died during a gun battle with the US Federal Bureau of Investigation in March.
According to the report, the researchers examined three groups of non-state actors: right-wing extremists; Groups affiliated with the ISIS or Da”esh terrorist group and al-Qaeda; and organized crime groups.
The researchers said the main conclusions they drew from their study were that violent non-state actors, including terrorist, violent extremist, and organized criminal groups, maliciously used social media during COVID-19.
Right-wing extremist groups and those affiliated with ISIS and Al-Qaeda have tried to use the pandemic to reinforce their narratives (either racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant, or anti-democracy and modernization).
Organized criminal groups have tried to take advantage of the pandemic to primarily convey a positive image of their organizations, expand their activities and penetrate the legal economy, the report said.
The conspiracy theories usually attribute the origin of the virus to governments, religious or ethnic groups, secret networks, corporations or business people who, according to these interpretations, try to enforce secret agendas such as globalist depopulation, control of the world or the generation of financial income by selling pre-manufactured vaccines and drug treatments, it said.
Far-right groups have also spread conspiracy theories that hold immigrants and foreigners responsible as those responsible for spreading the virus.
The New Jersey European Heritage Association (NJEHA) announced a campaign that included stickers with slogans such as “Stop Coronavirus – Deportation of All Illegal Aliens”, “Migrants Accepted No – We Are Infected”, “Open Borders Are The Virus” and “Multicultural “Is the virus” “open borders spread disease” in the city, the report said.
Conspiracy theories like Accelerationism, QAnon, and Boogaloo have also been used to misrepresent the COVID-19 pandemic.
UNICRI researchers identified several tools to expose disinformation and misinformation, including data science tools, fact-checking apps, and artificial intelligence, but warned that technological countermeasures alone cannot stop social media abuse.