Governments respond to Islamists spreading COVID-19

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In the Middle East and South Asia, governments are addressing the role of various Islamist groups in the spreading of the Chinese Coronavirus with mixed success. In Tunisia, the government is responding to an apparent deliberate plot to target police officers with the virus, while India handles the aftermath of an Islamist sect which served as “super spreaders” of the disease.

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In the Middle East and South Asia, governments are addressing the role of various Islamist groups in the spreading of the Chinese Coronavirus with mixed success. In Tunisia, the government is responding to an apparent deliberate plot to target police officers with the virus, while India handles the aftermath of an Islamist sect which served as “super spreaders” of the disease.

The Tunisian government claims to have disrupted a jihadist plot to deliberately spread novel Coronavirus to police officers, according to an article first appearing in the North Africa Post.

According to the report, the plan was orchestrated by a formerly incarcerated jihadist inmate, who ordered several of his followers to cough, spit, and otherwise infect police during required check-ins with authorities- which known suspected jihadists are required to make. It is not clear how serious or developed the plot actually was, or whether the suspected plotters even carried the disease. One suspect reportedly told interrogators that the plot did not seem viable due to security measures put in place. Tunisia has been maintaining a strict curfew enforced by security forces during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The threat to infect Tunisian law enforcement strongly echoes calls made by a New York-based Muslim Brotherhood member, who urged fellow Islamists to attempt to infect Egyptian police and security forces. Despite a reputation for moderation, Tunisia served as one of the largest exporters of jihadist foreign fighters during the rise of the Islamic State.

Meanwhile in South Asia, The Indian government has charged the leader of Tabligh Jamaat, an Islamist group with ties to terror recruiting, with manslaughter, after the group held a conference in Indian capital of New Delhi in defiance of a mass gathering ban. By April 4th, Indian health officials had linked the Tabligh gathering to as many as a third of all known Covid-19 cases in the country.

The Tabligh Jamaat is an Islamist sect based in the Indian subcontinent but active all over the world. The group’s members are strong proselytizers, traveling the globe to promote their own particular brand of Islamic adherence to mosques around the world. Tabligh Jamaat came to the attention of Law enforcement after 9/11, when it was reported that Al Qaeda members used association with the group in order to travel freely, leading to the group being described as a “Terror Support Entity” by U.S. intelligence.

There is no indication the group spread the disease deliberately, and most of those initially infected appeared to be Tabligh members themselves. Major Tabligh conferences in Pakistan and Malaysia have also been blamed for spread of the disease in the region. Despite that, both Muslim and non-Muslim majority governments have blamed Tabligh Jamaat for helping the virus jump national borders, some press accounts rushed to blame India’s response on Islamophobia.

Increasing tensions between area Muslims and the Indian government has been part of an effort by Islamist groups, most notably Jamaat-e-Islami, following the government’s recent decision to offer fast-track citizenship to persecuted non-Muslim minorities from neighboring Muslim states.

Islamist groups will continue to pose a challenge for governments responding to the COVID-19 crisis, as they can be expected to use the situation to their own political advantage. But the viability of COVID-19 for bio-terror purposes remains questionable, despite media hype.

Kyle Shideler

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