Not The Onion? PressTV Claims British, Israeli Scientists Developing SARS Virus Targeting Arabs

After Iran’s Fars News Agency was fooled last month by an article in The Onion, you might think Iran’s press would be a bit more careful in what it chooses to publish, but PressTV today seems to have topped “rural white American voters prefer Ahmadinejad over Obama” by choosing to publish accusations that British and Israeli scientists are hard at work developing a version of the SARS virus that attacks only Arabs.

The article opens with its wild charge:

British and Zionist health experts are working on a SARS-like race-specific bio-weapon, which could be capable of creating a global threat through triggering a massive ethnic cleansing, it has been claimed.

The claim was made following the identification by the World Health Organization (WHO) of a new SARS-like race-specific virus that targets people of Middle Eastern decent. [sic] The original SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) resulted in the death of numerous people in Hong Kong.

PressTV is assigning remarkable power to these scientists, because the accusation is based on a new virus that has been seen only in a grand total of two cases, with the first being in June. The claim that the virus is “race-specific” appears to come from the WHO description of the virus, but in fact PressTV and the accusers miss a key part of the description:

travel to or residence in an area where infection with novel coronavirus has recently been reported or where transmission could have occurred;*

The asterisk is linked to:

* Currently, these areas would include only Qatar and Saudi Arabia (as of 29 September 2012).

The two known cases involve residents of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, but the accusation that this virus has been magically engineered to be race-specific completely overlooks that WHO would consider this virus to be involved for any person of any race who recently traveled to Saudi Arabia or Qatar and displayed the other diagnostic criteria they describe.

It appears that PressTV is crediting “intelligence sources” for the accusations. The article continues:

The Zionist-led Israeli regime has been seeking to spot specific genes carried by human of Arab decent in an attempt to develop a race-specific bio-weapon that could covertly be exposed to Arab populations in order to commit a massive ethnic cleansing whenever necessary.

Anonymous intelligence sources have also claimed that work is underway to create genetically modified bacterium/virus as a bio-weapon which could be deployed through the air or water supply.

According to intelligence sources Israeli Defense, working with a British defense apparatus at Porton Down, is seeking to produce this race-specific bio-weapon.

The latest news from WHO puts even more of a damper on claims that this virus is a new super biological weapon:

WHO has continued to monitor the situation. No additional confirmed cases have been reported and there is no evidence so far of person to person transmission of the novel coronavirus.

In order for the virus to achieve “massive ethnic cleansing” it would be necessary for it to spread from person to person quickly and efficiently before killing those infected. Instead, the two known cases of the virus have been isolated, with no known persons with whom the infected people came into contact developing symptoms of the disease.

Should US scientists consider it an insult that they were not included in the conspiracy theory?

9 replies
  1. emptywheel says:

    Love this post.

    But I’m curious by the background behind it. Presumably, Iran is making this accusation as a way to shore up their Arab allies in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq.

    But it’s interesting that the two cases are in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the two countries funding the opposition to Assad. Is it a bid to make trouble in Saudi Arabia, especially?

    Which is interesting, given that Bruce Reidel seems to think this book predicting revolt in Saudi Arabia has merit.

    A timely new book, On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines and Future by Karen Elliot House, presents an ominous picture of a country seething with internal tensions and anger.

    Sixty percent of Saudis are 20 or younger, most of whom have no hope of a job. Seventy percent of Saudis can not afford to own a home. Forty percent live below the poverty line.

    The royals, 25,000 princes and princesses, own most of the valuable land and benefit from a system that gives each a stipend and some a fortune. Foreign workers make the Kingdom work; the 19 million Saudi citizens share the Kingdom with 8.5 million guest workers.

    Other fault lines are getting deeper and more explosive. According to House, regional differences and even “regional racism” between parts of the country are “a daily fact of Saudi life.” Hejazis in the West and Shiites in the East resent the strict Wahhabi lifestyle imposed by the Quran belt in the Nejd central desert. Gender discrimination, essential to the Wahhabi world view, is a growing problem as more and more women become well educated with no prospect of a job. Sixty percent of Saudi college graduates are women but they are only twelve percent of the work force. You can hear some of their angry voices in this book.

  2. Jim White says:

    A commenter on Twitter has alerted me to a reference by PNAC (the original neocon “think tank”) that bioweapons could be made into a “politically useful tool” by targeting a specific genotype:

    And advanced forms of biological warfare that can “target” specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool.

    Those wacky neocons. One side’s “terror” is our side’s “politically useful tool.”


    So there appears to be at least a bit of history on the side of the current conspiracy theory.

  3. Snarki, child of Loki says:

    @Jim White: yes, well a plague that targets “semite” genetics (=jewish+arab) has the potential to greatly simplify the situation in the middle east.

    There’s a name for the ideology that proposes “final solutions” to genetically undesirable ethnic groups…let’s see, what was it?

  4. Brindle says:

    Virus targeting Arabs?
    How about rap groups stemming al Qaeda’s hold on younger Arabs–
    via Spencer:

    CVE ( Countering Violent Extremism)

    –“The State Department has even sent an Islamic rap group to various Muslim countries as goodwill ambassadors. The group, Native Deen, sometimes worries about seeming like “puppets,” as one of its members told The New York Times. A major government collection of thinking floats ”the use of rock and roll to counter violent Salafi extremism.”

  5. Jeff Kaye says:

    Well, I certainly wonder about how specific a bio-ethnic weapon could be developed for use on Arabs that wouldn’t, for instance, target also Palestinians, or Sephardic Jews, for that matter.

    But the idea of ethnic bioweapons is not pure science fiction. Here’s something from Univ of Virginia (

    “There is emerging international concern about the possibilities of ethnic warfare using targeted biological weapons,” says Moreno, director of U.Va.’s Center for Biomedical Ethics. “It is already known that the old apartheid government in South Africa was conducting research for the possible development of biological agents that could be used against the black population. They were particularly interested in seeking ways to sterilize women of color. There have also been allegations that Israel has shown an interest in these kinds of targeted bioweapons. The international community will need to strongly address such threats in the near future.”

    Moreno served as senior staff for two Clinton administration advisory commissions, one on radiation experiments conducted on humans following WWII, and another on research conducted on people with impaired decision-making abilities.

    In fact, the PressTV report is not even new (

    In October 1997, Dr. Wayne Nathanson, chief of the Science and Ethics Department of the Medical Society of the United Kingdom, warned the annual meeting of the Society that “gene therapy” might possibly be turned into “gene weapons” which could potentially be used to target particular genes possessed by certain groups of people. These weapons, Nathanson warned, could be delivered not only in the forms already seen in warfare such as gas and aerosol, but could also be added to water supplies, causing not only death but sterility and birth defects in targeted groups….

    On November 15, 1998, the London Times reported that Israel claimed to have successfully developed a genetically specific “ethnic bullet” that targets Arabs. When an Israeli government spokesman was asked to confirm the existence of ethnic weapons, he did not deny that they had them, but rather said, “we have a basket full of serious surprises that we will not hesitate to use if we feel that the state of Israel is under serious threat”….

    The November 1970 issue of the Military Review published an article entitled “Ethnic Weapons” for command-level military personnel. The author of the article was Dr. Carl Larson, head of the Department of Human Genetics at the Institute of Genetics in Lund, Sweden. Dr Larson wrote of how genetic variations in races are concurrent with differences in tolerances for various substances. For instance, large segments of Southeast Asian populations display a lactose intolerance due to the absence of the enzyme lactase in the digestive system. A biological weapon could conceivably take advantage of this genetic variance and incapacitate or kill an entire population.

    So this story is really about 14 years old. Wired Magazine wrote about the London Times story at the time:

    Here’s a link to that 1970 Military Review article (the whole issue, in fact):

    Is it all black propaganda, or is there something to it? You read and decide, but I do take it seriously.

  6. Cheryl Rofer says:

    Thanks for the good sense.

    A simpler response is that “race-specific” disease vectors, even if the state of biotechnology were up to this precision, require a “race-specific” genetic marker with some particular vulnerability. That’s two qualities in one marker, much less probable than one.

    And one, the “race-specific” marker, simply doesn’t exist. As noted above, Middle Easterners are all pretty close genetically (although some Jews will not have Middle Eastern ancestry). The thing that really undercuts the “race-specific” thing is our continuing human propensity to mate with people not in our in-group.

    But I sometimes am too brief, and a fuller explanation is useful.

  7. P J Evans says:

    I would expect that any such ‘race-specific’ virus would end up targeting people who didn’t even know they carried whatever genes were being used as a marker. (Do they really, seriously, think that genes haven’t spread, ever, out of one ethnic group into others?)

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