Coronavirus and terrorism: How militants, terror groups are exploiting the pandemic?
As many corrupt and poorly resourced governments across the Middle East and Africa fail to provide adequate care for populations amid the global health crisis, militant groups are using this to win civilians support by mounting efforts against the pandemic.
As the world is in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, terror organisations and militants are busy exploiting the situation to motivate followers and reinforce their credentials as alternative rulers of swaths of unstable countries across the Middle East, Asia and Africa. But how are they managing it?
In several countries, criminal gangs, insurgents and terrorist groups govern areas where the central government's power is weak or non-existent.
Many corrupt, inefficient and poorly resourced governments across Africa and the Middle East, in the present scenario, are failing to provide adequate care for already distrustful populations. So militant groups are using this to earn legitimacy in the eyes of the public, says a report in the Guardian.
Some of these groups already provide social services, like medical care, education and an organized way to resolve disputes – analogous to a rudimentary justice system.
Offering these essential services not only help these groups gain the support of the local civilians, but will also earn them potential supporters abroad, enabling them to strike harder than before.
Islamist groups seek to protect the citizens out of self-interest.
WHAT THESE GROUPS ARE DOING?
In Lebanon, the militant group Hezbollah has mobilized 1,500 doctors, 3,000 nurses and paramedics, and 20,000 more activists to fight the novel coronavirus.
"It is a real war that we must confront with the mindset of a warrior," Sayyed Hashem Safieddine, the head of Hezbollah's executive council, told Reuters.
The group operates hospitals, where it is providing free testing and treatment for COVID-19. It is also renting out hotels to be used as quarantine facilities.
Islamist group Hamas that rules the Gaza Strip in Israel is building two massive quarantine facilities. A recent edition of a newsletter distributed by the Islamic State includes several directives to address the disease.
The terror group has recommended staying away from sick people, avoiding travel to and from the areas affected by any epidemic, covering one's mouth when coughing and yawning, and washing hands before eating and drinking.
It has also urged its supporters to "put their trust in God and seek refuge in him".
In Afghanistan, the Taliban have disseminated videos on disinfection and mobilized its fighters to hand out face masks and soap. The group also offered security guarantees to any aid group assisting victims of the virus or helping to stop its spread.
Libyan rebel forces have imposed a curfew from 6 pm to 6 am in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus.
Al Qaeda had issued six pages of advice and commentary on COVID-19 last week, stating that though the virus had cast "a gloomy, painful shadow over the entire world", the arrival of the pandemic in the Muslim world was a consequence of "our own sins and … the obscenity and moral corruption … widespread in Muslim countries".
The group, which has not launched attacks in the west for more than a decade, said the crisis was an opportunity "to spread the correct creed, call people to jihad in the way of Allah and revolt against oppression and oppressors".
In Somalia, militant group Al-Shabaab held an urgent meeting two weeks ago to discuss the threat of the pandemic where senior commanders decided to tell Muslims to take precautions against the disease.
Al-Shabaab, which controls swaths of territory and is fighting local government forces backed by US airstrikes and other African troops, blamed the disease on "the crusader forces who have invaded the country and the disbelieving countries that support them".
While areas ruled by terror groups may be out of reach of the government, they are well within the reach of the coronavirus.
Humanitarian organisations like the Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières have a long history of working with these groups, viewing them as necessary partners for aid to reach civilians living under their control.
The Afghan Taliban have said they will assist any humanitarian organisation that is helping COVID-19 victims or helping to stop its spread, and in some parts of the country have offered to cooperate with local authorities.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed told the Associated Press news agency: "If, God forbid, the outbreak happens in an area where we control the situation, then we can stop fighting in that area."
The militant group have also offered security guarantees to any aid organization seeking to assist victims of the virus or helping to stop its spread.
Still, relationships between humanitarian organisations and militant groups can be fraught, including governments blocking humanitarian groups' access to rebel areas, militants failing to protect aid workers.
Another point of concern is that these militant organizations don't always use aid the way they promise to.