While governments around the world are still trying to contain the coronavirus pandemic, al-Qaeda is attempting to use the crisis to win new recruits. Last week, jihadist websites and social media channels circulated a long missive from al-Qaeda’s senior leadership titled, “The Way Forward: A Word of Advice on the Coronavirus Pandemic.” The six-page statement was clearly written for a Western audience, as English and Arabic versions were disseminated at the same time. The authors, who are fluent in English, have been closely following our news.
Al-Qaeda crows that the pandemic “has exposed the brittleness of a global economy dominated by the United States,” after President Trump was “bragging” just “a few weeks back” about “economic growth, historically low unemployment rates and one of the longest ever bull rallies [on] Wall Street.” All of that economic prosperity has been reversed by the virus, a “powerful tsunami” that has left millions out of work and raised the prospect of a “long-term recession.”
It is not unusual to see al-Qaeda comment on the American economy. One of the organization’s long-running themes is that the 9/11 wars have cost the U.S. an inordinate amount of money, draining its blood and treasure. But in the new statement, the economic critique merely sets up al-Qaeda’s real message: a call for men and women in the West to convert. An entire section of the statement is devoted to “A General Call for the Masses in the Western World to Embrace Islam.” An “invisible soldier” has supposedly exposed the inherent weakness of the West’s materialistic ways.
“O’ people of the Western World! You have seen with your own eyes the power and might of Allah exhibited in this weak, invisible soldier,” the statement reads. Al-Qaeda offers a long litany of grievances and complaints against the West, repeating the tired trope that the American and European governments are at war with all of Islam.