ISIL now a covert global network despite significant losses, says UN

By agency reporter
August 26, 2018

Despite suffering “significant” losses, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) has morphed from a regional group into a covert global network, with a weakened yet enduring core in Iraq and Syria, the head of United Nations counter-terrorism told the Security Council on 23 August 2018.

Presenting the Secretary-General’s report Vladimir Voronkov, Under-Secretary-General in the United Nations Office of Counter Terrorism said the group’s evolution from a proto-State structure into a covert network has made it more difficult to detect and analyse because its financial-management functions have gone underground.  ISIL/Da’esh is still able to channel funds across borders and continues to expand in Afghanistan, projecting a growing threat into Central Asia, he added.

Emphasising that United Nations counter-terrorism bodies have prioritised their responses to the return and relocation of foreign terrorist fighters, he called for greater international cooperation, better sharing of information and efforts to improve capacity, as well as advanced countermeasures matching the sophisticated technological methods used by terrorists.

Also briefing the Council were Michèle Coninsx, Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, and Joana Cook, Senior Research Fellow with the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, at King’s College, London, both of whom underscored the importance of collective efforts.

Ms Coninsx pointed out that, since the adoption of resolution 2178 (2014), the emphasis has shifted to fighters relocating or returning to their countries of origin or nationality, or to third countries.  Over the past six months, Member States and United Nations entities have developed innovative ways to address the threat through the use of advanced passenger information, name records systems, as well as biometrics, she added.

Ms Cook said her research findings demonstrated that 41,490 foreign citizens across 80 countries have become affiliated with Da’esh.  One in four Da’esh fighters are women and minors – unprecedented numbers for a terrorist organisation, she added.  “We believe this to be a vast underestimation based on current gaps in data.”  She said the group reached out to women through targeted and gendered recruitment, leveraging the sense of purpose and belonging offered by the “caliphate”.  The international community now has the opportunity to incorporate such data into efforts to counter violent extremism, she emphasized.

In the ensuing dialogue, delegates decried the continuing ability of ISIL/Da’esh, despite its losses, to take advantage of ungoverned spaces and weak States.  The United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs noted that the root causes of the group’s emergence have yet to be resolved, stressing the need to do more to support peace and reconciliation in Iraq and to reach a political solution in Syria.

The representative of the United States described ISIL as “a resilient enemy”, saying her country is working with partners to help rebuild in Iraq and Syria, restoring electricity and other services, and thereby allowing 150,000 Syrians to return to Raqqa.  Where force is necessary, the United States will deepen its partnerships with countries fighting terrorism, she pledged.

On that point, the Russian Federation’s representative underlined that all counter-terrorism efforts must be carried out with full respect for the sovereignty of States in which such crimes are alleged to have been committed.  The Russian Federation is cooperating in such efforts within Syria, with the full consent of that country’s Government, he emphasised, while calling attention to blatant violations of the arms embargo against ISIL fighters there.

Kuwait’s delegate commended United Nations efforts to engage technology companies in limiting Internet use for terrorist purposes, while Poland’s representative advocated focusing on identifying and addressing abuse of new payment modalities to finance terrorism, notably in countries where they are unregulated.  States must fulfil their obligations to freeze the assets of all entities on the ISIL/Da’esh and Al-Qaida sanctions list, he emphasised.

France’s delegate cited the development of pluralist, inclusive solutions in Iraq and Syria – with the goal of ending impunity for sexual slavery perpetrated against the Yazidi people – as another critical imperative.

* Read the Secretary-General's full report here

* United Nations


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