Terrorist groups respond to coronavirus

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Terrorist groups respond to coronavirus

(KHARON BRIEF) – In the latest issue of its al-Naba newsletter, Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) instructed healthy members “not to enter the land of the epidemic,” as the coronavirus pandemic grows globally.

There are more than 200,000 confirmed cases worldwide of the new coronavirus, known as COVID-19, and governments around the globe are taking drastic measures to curb the outbreak as it spirals into a humanitarian crisis. The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday called the virus an “enemy against humanity,” urging global collective action against it.

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) on Monday told banks to remain on alert for virus-related illicit financial activity. Interpol issued a warning last week about financial fraud linked to the crisis.

Terror groups are also figuring out how to guide their members and address the disease as the number of cases grow. An infographic from ISIS commanded followers to trust in Allah and “seek refuge in him from diseases,” and to “cover one’s mouth when yawning and sneezing.”

Besides ISIS, Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) also cited WHO guidance in its March 2020 Ebaa newsletter on how to safeguard against the disease. HTS, a Syria-based group linked to al-Qaida, was sanctioned in May 2018 and has raised money to hold its territory in the country’s northwest against a government-backed assault, Kharon previously reported.

Though the Syrian government said there were no confirmed cases of the virus in Syria as of Monday, Ebaa News reported that Iranian militias fighting on behalf of the Syrian government brought the virus with them, citing “local sources in the city of Deir Al-Zour.” Seven members of the Iranian militias have died due to the virus, and 40 others were infected, HTS said, although these figures could not be independently confirmed.

Iran is dealing with one of the world’s deadliest outbreaks from the virus: As of Wednesday, the country had reported more than 17,000 cases and at least 1,100 deaths, according to ABC News.

Syrian companies are reacting as well: Cham Wings Airlines, sanctioned in 2016 for its support of the government, announced the suspension of its flights to Iraq, Lebanon, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Iran, based on precautionary measures.

Damascus-area officials have shut down much of the city’s social life, including nightclubs, sports venues and internet cafes.

Hizballah froze all visits to Iran and imposed a quarantine in Syria on a group of students who were returning to Lebanon via Damascus airport, according to a report. The Lebanese organization has monitored the situation in Iran since the start of the crisis, another report said.

Beyond Syria, the Taliban in Afghanistan said this week it would work with healthcare workers instead of killing them, as they’ve been accused of doing in the past, according to a Reuters report. Afghanistan has 22 confirmed cases of the virus, and there are growing concerns about Afghans crossing the border with Iran, the Reuters report said.

The virus was “perhaps sent by Allah because of the disobedience and sins of mankind or other reasons,” the Taliban said in a statement published Wednesday.

On Saturday, Hamas said that the Gaza Strip was virus-free, but that it would continue to enact measures to try to prevent the virus from infecting the area.

The Palestinian group restricted obligatory prayer in the mosque, encouraging people to perform prayers at home, and it has closed women’s prayer rooms. Gazan authorities said they will be closing Gaza’s border crossings with Israel and Egypt, according to media reports. There have been 33 suspected cases, all of which tested negative, the Gaza Health Ministry said.

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