In an apparently orchestrated move, Iranian hardliners and their affiliated media have launched a strong propaganda campaign to convince the public that the coronavirus crisis in the country is the result of a specific strain of the virus used for a "bio-terror attack" by the United States against Iran. The conspiracy theory appears to be finding some supporters outside the circles of hardliners as well.
Ali-Akbar Raefipour, a hardliner famous for his conspiracy theories and promotion of apocalyptic views based on Shiite eschatology and the coming of the promised savior, Mahdi, has been spearheading the conspiracy theories on coronavirus. In a tweet on Monday he called on the Iranian Parliament to ratify a law to allow Iran to retaliate against bio-terrorism if it is proven that it has been used against Iran.
The first among Iranian officials to make such allegations was General Hossein Salami, the Commander of Revolutionary Guard who on March 5 said the coronavirus "perhaps is a bio-terror attack" by the United States, used first against China and then Iran, and promised Iran would defeat the virus "whether or not it is the doing of the United States".
A day later, in reaction to Donald Trump's offer of assistance to Iran to fight the outbreak, Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, a leading conservative lawmaker and member of the Parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, repeated the same allegations. "Trump and Pompeo are lying about corona [COVID-19]. It's not an ordinary disease. It's a bio-terror attack against Iran and China," he said and called on the authorities to treat the epidemic as a military issue and form an organization dedicated to defense against bio-terrorism.
On Monday Dr. Amir-Hossein Qazizadeh-Hashemi, a well-known hardliner and member of the Parliament's Health Committee, counted all the calamities resulting from the coronavirus outbreak including "creation of political and social tension" as a proof of the theory that Iran was facing a bio-terror attack.
Ghazizadeh-Hashemi demanded that the Coronavirus Taskforce of the Health Ministry be replaced with another taskforce to allow the armed forces to take charge of the "biological crisis". His article was published on Habilian, a website dedicated to "counter-Terrorism" analysis and news.
Even a reformist member of parliament has echoed these allegations. Speaking to the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) on Monday Shahrouz Barzegar, a member of the Parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said coronavirus in Iran is of two types and claimed that one of the two types may be a biological weapon used by the United States against Iran.
Barzegar quoted the Minister of Health Saeed Namaki as saying in a Parliament meeting that it appears there are two types of coronavirus in Qom and Gilan provinces where the coronavirus outbreak has now escalated to critical levels. One type which is less aggressive is the same as the Wuhan coronavirus and the more aggressive one is of unknown origins.
The official government news agency IRNA on Monday evening, however, refuted the quotation from the Health minister and said what was attributed to the Health Minister was "totally untrue".
Others have criticized these conspiracy theories too. In a commentary on March 10 Iran Diplomacy, a news and analysis website with reformist affiliations, pointed out the harms of spreading rumors that coronavirus is a bio-terror attack.
The Iran Diplomacy commentary also called on officials of the Passive Defense Organization and others who promote such theories to explain why they have not been able to carry out their duty of protecting the country against such an attack and have been "systematically" hiding the real dimensions of the crisis including its death toll.
Sadeq Javadihesar, a reformist political analyst and activist, says officials have resorted to attributing the coronavirus crisis to bio-terrorism to justify their inefficiency in combatting and containing the epidemic including their failure to prepare for an outbreak, to isolate affected areas, Qom in particular, under pressure from the religious establishment which has to this day resisted any steps toward closing shrines and putting the city in quarantine.
"Why did we not stop the flights [of the IRGC-affiliated Mahan Air to China] or procure sanitizers, masks, etc. when we found out that China was targeted? Why Qom was not quarantined when we found out there was an outbreak and the authorities acted as if everything was normal?" he asked.