It’s not just governors and presidents who are leading the fight against coronavirus — drug dealers, mobsters and terrorists are also battling the bug.
In regions of the globe controlled by shadowy underworld organizations — from Central American narco-strongholds to remote Middle Eastern areas — deadly thugs are doing things like enforcing social distancing and making people wear hand sanitizer.
And while Homeland Security has warned that extremists could exploit the overwhelming focus on the crisis to launch deadly attacks, many are also trying to avoid getting ill like regular people.
“A weak pandemic response from a formal government creates an opportunity for the violent group to earn legitimacy in the eyes of the public,” University of Maryland political scientist Jori Breslawski wrote in The Conversation. “Violent groups often take actions to gain legitimacy in order to gain support from civilians living under their rule as well as potential supporters abroad.”
They may have another, simpler motive, too — keeping their own families safe from the deadly contagion, Breslawski said.
This is how key groups have responded:
MEXICAN DRUG LORDS
The sons of notorious drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman have been threatening those who break Mexico’s lockdown with beatings with boards, arrests and fines, the Yucatan Times reported this week.
Iván Archivaldo Guzmán, 36, and Jesús Alfredo Guzmán, 37 – known as “Los Chapitos, or “Little Chapos” — have heavily armed henchmen roaming the streets of the state capital of Sinaloa to enforce a curfew, the paper says.
Their sister, Alejandrina, and several other cartels have also tried to win over despairing locals — shown in videos handing out coronavirus relief packages to the needy in an apparent PR campaign.
Drug gangs in Rio de Janeiro that have been over-running some of Brazil’s most dangerous favelas have also been enforcing strict curfews, reports there say.
“Anyone found messing or walking around outside will be punished,” a loudspeaker message warns already scared locals in the notorious City of God neighborhood, The Guardian says.
Others enforce hand sanitizers at the entrance of favelas, while making sure people only walk in pairs before the curfew starts, the paper says.
“I’m staying at home – filled with fear and smothered in hand sanitizer,” one street hawker said.
Another local said, “Nobody wants to go outside – first of all for fear of coronavirus and now because of this order.”
Never one to miss out on an opportunity, the Mafia has been exploiting Italy’s devastating outbreak to prove it still runs the show — by hiring the newly unemployed workers as foot soldiers, crime experts say.
La Cosa Nostra is also stepping in with its hefty cash supplies to support companies facing bankruptcy, in exchange for part ownership, according to author Roberto Saviano, who says liquidity is now “the center of everything” in the wake of the crisis.
Mafioso soldiers have also been handing out food parcels to win over the needy, the BBC said.
“The mafia has never done anything out of generosity. That concept doesn’t exist for them,” Enza Rando, who works for an anti-mafia organization, told the broadcaster. “All they know is ‘I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine’.”
Latin America’s most feared gang, MS-13, has also joined the fight, enforcing curfews in areas of El Salvador where police often fear to go.
But gang leaders also admitted to the San Salvador newspaper El Faro that they were the only ones who could protect their own members — knowing they would not be helped by authorities if they fall sick.
“If there are no respirators left and one of us is gravely ill, all tattooed, and an old woman appears who is in serious condition, they are going to disconnect the gang member and they are going to let him die,” one member said.
After years of urging its terrorists to attack major European cities, ISIS is now telling them to steer clear due to the coronavirus — as well as handing out safety guidance to would-be jihadis.
The “healthy should not enter the land of the epidemic and the afflicted should not exit from it,” the group wrote in its al-Naba newsletter, the Sunday Times of London reported.
New “sharia directives” also instructed followers to wash their hands regularly and “cover their mouths when yawning and sneezing,” said the UK paper — noting that the militants have plenty of experience in covering their faces.
Al Qaeda, meanwhile, seems as depressed as anyone at the pandemic that “has cast its gloomy, painful shadow over the entire world” — and hopes the pandemic will do all the terror that is needed.
Recent communications gloated how COVID-19 is “a powerful tsunami” devastating Americans and their once powerful economy, according to Homeland Security Today.
Instead of a call for violence, the group wants to save all its followers — urge them to use time in isolation to study the Quran.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban has put safety first — putting out videos on disinfection and photos of its fighters handing out face masks and soap.
The group has also conducted door-to-door temperature checks and distributed hand sanitizer, even bragging about setting up public health information teams and even quarantine centers, Foreign Policy noted.
Public health now comes before fighting, it seems.
“If, God forbid, the outbreak happens in an area where we control the situation, then we can stop fighting in that area,” a Taliban spokesman said recently.
The Lebanese paramilitary group Hezbollah said it would mobilize 25,000 people including frontline medics to help confront the coronavirus in Lebanon. “It is a real war that we must confront with the mindset of a warrior,” Sayyed Hashem Safieddine, head of the executive council of the Shi’ite group designated a terrorist organization by the US.
“Our role is to complement the government apparatus and not to stand in its place,” he said, presenting Hezbollah’s plan on its al-Manar TV in March.
“Managing crises and managing wars … are not that different.”
With Post wires