Islamic State encourages terror without travel during pandemic
When the corona pandemic forced countries around the world into lockdown and to hastily slam shut their borders, many found themselves spending more time online, and ‘online’ is the happy hunting ground of Islamic State recruiters.
The terrorist organisation has twisted the pandemic to serve its own nefarious agenda — including encouraging attacks in city’s where followers reside while travel lockdowns are in place.
“Historically, we know that IS uses its time and resources in the shadows of the media to recruit and build support under the radar,” says Michael Krona, IS expert at Malmö University.
IS has described the Covid-19 infection as ‘God's torment on crusader countries’, and in various circles the virus has also been described as ‘Allah's soldier’.
Its presence on social media is the biggest success factor for IS recruiters. The organisation grooms its followers with a sense of belonging and community. In this respect, IS acts in a similar fashion to a media company.
IS produces magazines, newsletters, runs its own news agency, radio stations, popular apps — and has for several years published material on Instagram, WhatsApp, Telegram and, most recently, the messaging app Hoop.
In recent years, Krona has studied IS's various media channels and mapped the organisation's media strategies. As the pandemic has drawn on, he has observed how the organisation uses the corona pandemic to benefit its own purposes.
IS has described the Covid-19 infection as ‘God's torment on crusader countries’, and in various circles the virus has also been described as ‘Allah's soldier’. At the same time, IS has also contributed with health guidelines for Muslims who want to avoid infection. They have also encouraged those who subscribe to its doctrine not to travel.
“When long articles in IS newsletters focus on calling for attacks on Western countries, people are no longer encouraged to go there due to the risk of infection, but instead encourage supporters who already live there to carry out attacks,” says Krona.
Supporters online have also campaigned to help women and children in camps in northern Syria. The situation for them was difficult even before the pandemic and is likely to worsen.
“The message is that governments and states are not to be trusted, which is connected with IS propaganda which seeks to undermine trust in governments by uniting its supporters against the corrupt and failed political establishment,” says Krona.
Krona, in addition to advice and guidelines for how infection can be limited, has noted how theological translations of religious texts detail the pandemic.
“These are apocalyptic stories about doomsday, so it benefits its purposes and enables it to grow,” adds Krona.
Text: Ellen Albertsdottir