By Hessam Ghanatir
March 17, 2020
On March 12, in an order to General Mohammad Bagheri, Chief of Staff for the Armed Forces, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, brought up the theory that COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic in Iran might be the result of biological warfare. Now, officials of the Islamic Republic are more forcefully putting forward the claim that Iran has fallen victim to a biological attack.
The Supreme Leader ordered General Bagheri to establish a new Health and Treatment Base for preventing the spread of the disease. “This measure may also be regarded as a biological defense exercise. It adds to our national sovereignty and power, given the evidence that suggests the likelihood of this being a biological attack,” Khamenei said in his orders to General Bagheri.
On February 1, before the coronavirus outbreak in Iran was officially announced, Tasnim news agency, affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), claimed that the virus was a biological weapon [Persian link]. On February 2, in an interview with the Chinese ambassador to Iran, Chang Hua, the news agency questioned him on whether coronavirus was “a biological attack on the Chinese economy?”
In response, Hua said, “I have read about such reports on the web but, of course, I have not seen any scientific reports confirming it.”
“Perhaps it will come to light that the coronavirus was a biological attack instigated by the US against its adversaries,” tweeted Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, special aide to the chairman of the parliament and a former deputy foreign minister, on February 28.
In March, after the accelerated spread of COVID-19 in Gilan province, this claim was reiterated. The US was accused of launching a biological attack against Iran and with Khamenei having given credence to the conspiracy theory, many more rumors fly around amongst the people in Iran, most specifically political figures, hardline clerics and Friday Imams.
On Saturday, March 14, Rasoul Falahati, Friday Imam of Rasht, capital of Gilan province and the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, said that the spread of COVID-19 may be the result of a biological attack “by enemies, especially America.”
Alireza Panahian, a hardliner cleric and the head of Khamenei’s ‘think tank for universities’ added to the conspiratorial narrative in an announcement on the same day, “This deadly disease is a biological attack and a weapon in the hands of imperialism against humanity and the resistance movement against world arrogance (the US and its allies).”
Coronavirus is a “biological terrorist attack on China by America,” said Abolfazl Hasanbeigi, a member of the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee on March 13 [Persian links].
“Perhaps it would be revealed that the coronavirus has been a biological attack by the US against its adversaries,” tweeted Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, special aide to the chairman of the parliament and a former deputy foreign minister, on February 28. “The way that coronavirus has become an epidemic…is not normal and I believe it is a biological attack by the US and the Zionist regime,” tweeted Gholamali Jafarzadeh Imanabadi, member of parliament from Rasht [Persian links].
Ahmadinejad’s View of Coronavirus
On March 1, a letter from former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed to the United Nation’s Secretary-General, António Guterres, was published in which he claimed that the virus was conceived by the US.
In his letter, Ahmadinejad detailed his concerns, “Mutated and intelligent viruses such as COVID-19 are made in laboratories or, to put it more accurately, in the biological warfare arsenals of certain imperialist powers and far surpass the inhumanity, destructiveness, and terror that other weapons such as nuclear and chemical invoke.”
On March 3, Dr. Alireza Jalali, head of the IRGC’s Baqiyatallah University of Medical Sciences, said that a theory suggested by one of his researchers was that the outbreak of coronavirus in China might have been a biological attack or the result of “a mutation in the virus or the escape of the virus from the lab.” But he did not say which one of these theories, if any, have been confirmed. [Persian link].
“We will be victorious in the fight against this virus that might be the result of an attack prompted by the US that first broke out in China and then spread to Iran and other parts of the world,” said General Hossein Salami, commander-in-chief of the IRGC, on March 5.
“Trump and Pompeo are lying [Persian links] about coronavirus,” said Heshmatollah Falahat-Pisheh, the former chairman of the parliament’s National Security Committee. “It is not an ordinary disease but an act of bioterrorism that targeted Iran and China and we must not ignore this”.
“At this time, the dominant discourse among defence analysts is that coronavirus is a biological weapon launched to strike a hard blow to China’s economy and credibility,” wrote Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh, a medical doctor and member of the parliament’s board of directors, on the same day [Persian link]. “Supporters of this theory refer to evidence that a few weeks before the outbreak of this disease, American forces had visited the Chinese city of Wuhan.”
On March 11, Commander Gholamreza Jalali, head of Iran’s Civil Defense Organization, said that we cannot declare “with certainty” that coronavirus is a biological weapon but “it has many characteristics of a biological weapon.”
But on the same day, Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said that “we have no proof and we must wait [Persian links] for it to be investigated” .
Two days earlier, on March 9, General Hasan Araghizadeh, head of the Health Department of the Armed Forces General Staff, claimed that the likelihood of a biological attack by the US exists. “There is evidence supporting this likelihood and we must judge based on this evidence,” he said [Persian link]. “We all know that the US has labs in some countries that conduct biological tests and genetic engineering on viruses.”
Another claim is that Iran has been infected with a strain of coronavirus different from the one in China. This claim was voiced by Shahrooz Barzegar, member of the parliament’s National Security Committee, quoting the health minister [Persian link]. “My interpretation of what the health minister said is that there are two strains of the virus in the country,” he said. “One is the Wuhan virus from china and the other one is of unknown origin which I believe could be a bioterrorism virus that the US has spread in Iran.” The Ministry of Health, however, denied Barzegar’s claim.
It is ironic, however, that the Islamic Republic itself has been accused of waging biological warfare. On Thursday, March 12, Bahrain accused Iran of “biological aggression” by covering up the spread of the new coronavirus and failing to stamp the passports of Bahraini travelers. “With this behavior, Iran has allowed the disease to travel abroad, and in my estimation this constitutes a form of biological aggression that is criminalized by international law, as it has put in danger our safety and health and that of others,” tweeted Bahraini Interior Minister General Sheikh Rashid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa.
In an apparent response, Amir Abdollahian, special advisor to the speaker of the parliament in international affairs, tweeted: “America, which rules Bahrain through the presence of its Fifth Fleet, is a major cause of biological warfare and initially denied the existence of coronavirus.”
In protest against officials who are circulating the theory of a biological attack, Amir Khojasteh, member of the parliament from Hamadan, tweeted that “Unfortunately, some officials bring up the theory of bio-terrorism to blame a foreign enemy for all the problems that are the result of a management crisis. But the theory of a biological attack by an enemy called thoughtlessness [Persian link] and selfish expediency is a likelier theory.”