Groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS are using the COVID-19 pandemic to escalate conspiracy theories that the virus is gruelling the unbelievers, is God’s rage upon the West and instigates terrorists to use it as a form of biological weapon, according to a UN report.

The report titled Stop the virus of disinformation: the vitriolic use of social media by terrorists, harsh extremists and criminal groups during the COVID-19 pandemic was released by the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) on Wednesday.

It said that criminals and violent extremists are using the pandemic to make their support networks, erode trust in government and even weaponise the virus. The report added that terrorists, violent activists and organised criminal groups have vitriolically used social media to circulate conspiracy theories about the origin of COVID-19.

Groups linked with ISIL and Al-Qaeda have also escalated conspiracy theories that claim that the virus is a soldier of Allah that is gruelling the unbelievers and the enemies that have damaged Muslims over the last years. For instance, ISIL and Al-Qaeda claimed that the virus is God's rage upon the West, the report said.

Likewise, Al-Shabaab proclaimed that the coronavirus disease is spread by the reformer forces who have conquered the country and the disbelieving countries that support them, the report said.

The Global Fatwa Index has identified COVID-19 related messages from groups connected with ISIS and al-Qaeda, together with non-official fatwas that called on ISIS members who have succumbed COVID-19 to act as biological bombs by intentionally spreading the disease among the organisation’s adversaries, it said.

UNICRI Director Antonia Marie De Meo wrote in the introduction to the report that it is daunting that some terrorist and violent extremist groups have strived to misuse social media to provoke prospectiveterrorists to deliberately spread COVID-19 and to use it as an off-the-cuff form of a biological weapon.

There are examples in which right-wing extremist groups... openly asked their followers to spread the virus by coughing on their local minority or by attending to particular places where religious or racial minorities assemble. Other groups...back to spread the coronavirus disease in countries with large populations or high levels of pollution, the report said.

It also notes the case of stimulated terrorism was that of Timothy Wilson, who plotted to ignite a bomb in a hospital caring for coronavirus patients in Kansas City. He died during a firefight with the US Federal Bureau of Investigation in March.

According to the report, the researchers inspected three groups of non-State actors: right-wing extremists; groups associated with the ISIS or Da'esh terror group and al-Qaeda; and organised crime groups.

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