By Lucas Webber*
Major international sporting events have long been a target for jihadist groups looking to capitalize on these moments to bring attention to themselves, promote their messages, and malign their enemies. At present, there is no other professional athletics competition on the scale of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, which takes place from November 21 to December 18. This spectacle has been a focus of hardline Islamists as well as jihadist groups and their affiliates, including, al-Qaeda Central (AQC), al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and the Islamic State (IS) (Akhbar Alaan, November 26). These groups have taken aim at the World Cup, its Qatari hosts, nation-state participants, and even the sport of soccer itself.
Hardline Islamists and Al-Qaeda Jihadists Condemn the World Cup in Qatar
One of the earliest and most detailed critiques of the World Cup and Qatar came from a hardline British Islamist who published an entire magazine on the subject (MEMRI, November 16). The magazine was uploaded to the Internet Archive on November 15 by an account named “Birds of Jannah328” (Internet Archive, November 15). It begins by declaring that “one of the biggest diseases which have been injected into the hearts of the Muslims is that of nationalism (asabiyyah)” and that “instead of being united under a Khilafah (an Islamic State implementing the Sharia) Muslims are today divided into 56 nations each with its own flag, national anthem, football team, [and] illegitimate leader.” Additionally, Qatar is scorned for being the first nation amongst the Arab states to establish relations with Israel and the World Cup is derided for the “free mixing between men and women,” the association of the tournament with the promotion of alcohol and gambling, “FIFA rulings contradicting the Shari’ah”, and the influence of soccer stars as negative role models because many have been “involved in sex scandals, adultery, drunkenness, criminal behavior etc.” (Internet Archive, November 15).
AQAP, meanwhile, was among the first jihadist groups to formally comment on the event (Jihadology, November 19). Its November 19 statement criticizes Qatar for pursuing friendly relations with the West, permitting Christian churches to be built on the Arabian Peninsula and for hosting the World Cup itself, which the group argues leads to religious and moral corruption, including homosexuality and drawing masses of infidels to Islamic lands. AQAP suggests Qatar should instead use its resources to help oppressed Muslims in the Levant, Yemen, Myanmar, and across the African continent.
This was followed by an AQC release titled “Regarding the Pornographic Invasion of the Peninsula of Muhammad through the Qatar World Cup 2022” (Jihadology, November 20). The article condemns the Qatari government for poisoning, subverting, and domesticating Islam in the country and alleges that the World Cup promotes a culture of homosexuality, debauchery, prostitution, corruption, and atheism. AQC asserts that professional sports in general – and the World Cup in particular, given its powerful influence – are nefariously weaponized against Islam and its values.
The Islamic State’s Sentiments on the World Cup and Qatar
Days after the AQC release, IS published its own editorial on Qatar and the World Cup in its al-Naba weekly newsletter (Jihadology, November 24). IS declared Qatar a tyrant that is among the most powerful Arab states, claiming that the country is waging war on Islam. The publication also lambasts Qatar for hosting al-Udeid Airbase, where U.S troops are present. Anger at Qatar for hosting this base is a theme in the aforementioned Islamist magazine, the AQAP statement, as well as in posts by the pro-IS Uzbek- and Turkish-language Islom Tavhid Xabarlari propaganda network. The pro-IS outlet At-Taqwa amplified the al-Naba article by creating an image with a quote from it about Qatar being subservient to “the Crusaders.” 
Islom Tavhid Xabarlari has been laser-focused on the World Cup and the sport of soccer. It posted two videos on Telegram featuring text commentary about how the sport is used by world powers to hypnotize people and misdirect their passions, which prevents people from seeing who their real enemies are (Telegram/Islom Tavhid Xabarlari, November 2). Further, the propaganda network posted a lengthy statement about how soccer has become a “religion” and causes Muslims to leave Islam and convert to the sport, with stadiums becoming “churches” and fans gathering to see their “prophets,” who are the athletes (Telegram/Islom Tavhid Xabarlari, November 26).
Moreover, the pro-IS Talaa al-Ansar Foundation posted an image showing Qatar’s main stadium and warned against allowing such things to distract Muslims from their duty of jihad.  Talaa al-Ansar doubled down with a short video released on November 29 drawing a contrast between Qatari soccer fans and reverent IS militants.  Another widely circulated image in the online IS space showed scrawny children with Qatar’s arena in the backdrop and featured a caption about how $4.3 billion has been spent on the facility while thousands of Muslim children are dying of hunger (YouTube/Rasanae Tawhid, November 20). This again demonstrates IS’s disdain for Qatar.
Al-Qaeda and IS stopped short of explicitly calling for attacks in Qatar and had only limited general comments about the duty of jihad against the country. Yet there have been some calls for attacks online. For instance, pro-IS social media has widely circulated an image showing the flags of the international coalition “versus” the IS flag, with football stadium lights as the background and the word “SOON” alongside pictures of a grenade and dynamite. This release’s timing coincided with the start of the World Cup (Telegram/Sawt Al-Zarqawi, November 21). A second image posted on TamTam urges IS supporters to sabotage and firebomb World Cup targets, release scorpions and poisonous snakes into the stadium, and kill soldiers and then use weapons to murder others in the vicinity. 
Nevertheless, despite the sporadic threats by jihadist groups and their online sympathizers, the Qatar World Cup has thus far mostly been a vector for IS and AQ to rhetorically attack their enemies rather than to incite acts of violence against the event. It remains to be seen if such hostile sentiments will be successful in inspiring attacks among the masses of their online followers, however.
*About the author: Lucas Webber is a researcher focused on geopolitics and violent non-state actors. He is cofounder and editor at militantwire.com.
Source: This article was published by The Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor Volume: 20 Issue: 23
 At-Taqwa published the image on a Telegram channel on November 29.
 Talaa al-Ansar Foundation posted the image in a now-deleted TamTam channel sometime in late November.
 Talaa al-Ansar Foundation published the video on Telegram on November 29.
 This image was found in a TamTam online messaging application channel and was posted on November 21.