Following the suggestion last year that the Islamic State may attempt to weaponise the deadly Ebola virus to wage war against the West, the World Health Organisation is investigating reports that a number of militants have presented themselves to an Iraqi hospital with the disease.
As ISIS territory is over 3,500 miles away from the area of West Africa infected with the virus, if these cases prove to be genuine it would leave little doubt the infection has been caused deliberately, as chances of accidental infection in the so-far Ebola free deserts and mountains of the Levant is fleetingly small. The reports of infection come from Kurdish sources who claim an unspecified number of fighters had come to the ISIS-held Mosul hospital.
Although the report states the virus has arrived with fighters returning from Africa, the facts have yet to be fully established as the Islamic State has not given access to the territory it controls to international bodies such as the United Nations and the World Health Organisation, reports the Daily Mail.
The potential use of Ebola as a weapon, either by the Islamic State or others has long been discussed and it may be that these reports have stemmed from a misdiagnosis or Kurdish propaganda, aggravating the worst fears of the West. Regardless, some senior figures are taking the threat seriously. It was reported last year that “The use of Ebola as a poisonous weapon against the United States” had been discussed by terrorists in “jihadist chat rooms”.
In October, Captain ‘Al’ Shimkus of the United States Naval War College said of the potential for weaponised Ebola: “The individual exposed to the Ebola Virus would be the carrier. In the context of terrorist activity, it doesn’t take much sophistication to go to that next step to use a human being as a carrier”.
Thanks to poor health provision, lack of education, and insanitary conditions Ebola has spread quickly in West Africa, taking the death toll to nearly 7,900 in just a matter of months, making it the largest and fastest spreading outbreak of the virus ever. It is difficult to know how an outbreak in a Western nation would proceed, and whether the potential for fast transmission by mass transit such as trains and planes could be counteracted by modern health provision and risk awareness.