February 2020 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 January 2020
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THEMATIC ISSUES

Counter-Terrorism

Expected Council Action

In February, Under-Secretary-General Vladimir Voronkov, the head of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism (OCT), and Michèle Coninsx, the Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED), are expected to brief the Security Council on the Secretary-General’s tenth strategic-level report on the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or Da’esh). In the past, Council members received these reports every four months; however, several Council members felt that was excessive, and so the report has been submitted biannually since the adoption of resolution 2368 in July 2017.

Background and Key Recent Developments

Under the terms of resolution 2368 of 20 July 2017, the Secretary-General submits a strategic-level report on ISIL to the Council biannually. The reports are intended to reflect the gravity of the ISIL threat as well as the range of UN efforts to support states in countering that threat. In his July 2019 report, the Secretary-General found that despite its territorial defeat in Syria, ISIL remains committed to the global relevance of its so-called caliphate. According to the report, it continues to draw upon its affiliates and inspires attacks, and possesses an estimated residual wealth of $300 million. The report also highlights acute concerns about the challenges posed by foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs), returnees and relocators, and the increasing number of attacks in areas controlled by the Syrian government.

Beyond the Middle East, there has been a noticeable increase in ISIL- and Al-Qaida-linked recruitment in Africa, according to the report. The “West Africa Province” is now one of the strongest ISIL offshoots, with approximately 4,000 fighters. ISIL also presents an evolving threat in Central Africa. In Europe, radicalisation in prisons and the risk presented by returnees upon their release from prison remain significant concerns, particularly given their direct input into home-grown terrorism and domestically inspired attacks. Asia continues to experience the ISIL threat despite military pressure: the jihadist group is estimated to have between 2,500 and 4,000 fighters there, including FTFs. In Southeast Asia, the report notes two troubling developments among ISIL affiliates: the role of women in planning and executing attacks and explicit targeting of places of worship. The report warns that the decline in attacks directed by ISIL may only be temporary.

Briefing the Council on the report on 27 August 2019, Voronkov underscored that the fall of Baghouz, ISIL’s last stronghold in Syria, did not remove the threat posed by ISIL, which continues to evolve into a covert network and remains the international terrorist group most likely to conduct a large-scale attack in the near future. He also emphasised that despite significant challenges concerning the repatriation of their nationals, especially women and children, from ISIL territories, several member states—including Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan—have repatriated women and children, including orphans, from Iraq and Syria. He also highlighted three new initiatives being spearheaded by the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) that address law enforcement and border security, protection of vulnerable targets such as places of worship, and a global capacity-building programme to counter the financing of terrorism. During his briefing, Voronkov furthermore presented key principles developed by the UNOCT that focus on screening, prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration of suspected terrorists and their families, as well as the related practical implementation and customised support being provided by UNOCT, other United Nations entities, and various regional and field presences to the states that request it.

During the same briefing on 27 August, Coninsx stressed that the international community must pay urgent attention to the large numbers of women and children who are detained because of their association with ISIL. She was also adamant that any post-repatriation strategies include short-, medium- and long-term components, addressing prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration of the returnees. She emphasised that CTED remains fully engaged with its partners and stands ready to assist member states in addressing these challenges.

In other ISIL-related developments, some detainee camps in Syria serve as incubators for possible ISIL resurgence, according to Michael Stephens of the Royal United Services Institute, an independent think tank in London focused on defence and security research. After the fall of Baghouz in March 2019, the al-Hawl camp admitted 64,000 women and children, many of whom have links to ISIL, with the camp rapidly falling under the control of a group of radicalised women. While official numbers are not available, several prisoners fled when Turkey began its shelling offensive against the Kurdish forces in the area in October 2019.

In December 2019, ISIL claimed responsibility for an attack in Nigeria’s north-eastern Borno state in which 11 people were killed. A 56-second video released by the ISIL “news agency” Amaq said the attack was part of ISIL’s campaign to avenge Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s targeted killing in October 2019. On 9 January, ISIL assaulted a Niger military base, leaving 89 Nigerien soldiers and 77 ISIL militants dead.

There have also been developments regarding the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD), established by resolution 2379 of 21 September 2017 to support Iraqi domestic efforts to hold ISIL accountable for crimes it committed in Iraq.

On 20 September, the Council unanimously renewed UNITAD’s mandate for another 12 months. On 26 November, Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, the Special Adviser and head of UNITAD, briefed the Council on his third report and most recent developments. Kachi Amo Saloh, a Yazidi survivor who joined the discussion from Iraq via video teleconference, spoke about losing family members to ISIL crimes and his support for UNITAD and the implementation of its mandate. (For more, please see our 25 November 2019 What’s In Blue story.)

During the briefing, Khan discussed UNITAD’s evolution from “start-up to real operations” over the previous six months. He also addressed significant progress in collecting, gathering and analysing evidence of ISIL crimes in Mosul, Sinjar, and the Tikrit Air Academy (also known as Camp Speicher). Khan elaborated on UNITAD’s two field-based missions conducting active investigations in the Ninawa governorate, where ISIL targeted judges, religious clergy, journalists and health-care officials. Through these missions, UNITAD identified several individual ISIL members as “primary targets for further investigations” in relation to the three areas, which were discussed during his previous briefing in July. On staff recruitment, Khan said that his team had grown to 107 members and represented all geographical groups at the UN. Women occupy half of the senior leadership positions.

In other counter-terrorism-related developments, the Council held a ministerial-level debate on 25 September 2019 on counter-terrorism cooperation in Central Asia. Secretary-General António Guterres emphasised that efforts to counter terrorist ideology must be founded on respect for the dignity and human rights of all. Several speakers embraced that sentiment and, in their statements, focused on the need to fully respect international law, especially human rights law, in the context of counter-terrorism operations. Some stressed that success in countering terrorism lies in respect for human rights principles within the UN framework.

Key Issues and Options

A key issue for the Council is to maintain the necessary flexibility and adaptability to address the evolving global threat posed by ISIL as well as ensuring the overall implementation of the 1267/1989/2253 Al-Qaida/ISIL sanctions regime as part of wider counter-terrorism efforts. However, it is important that states do not hinder humanitarian activities, as highlighted in resolution 2462.

Council members may want to address the key principles developed by UNOCT and presented by Voronkov during his briefing in August 2019 and hear about their practical impact.

Council Dynamics

Counter-terrorism is one of the issues where there is a high degree of consensus among Council members, who are in overall agreement about the importance of receiving strategic analysis on ISIL, which can then feed into other counter-terrorism efforts or serve as background for the Council’s counter-terrorism agenda, even if no specific course of action is foreseen. Council members differ, however, in their approach to FTFs and their families. For example, during negotiations over resolutions 2395 and 2396 in December 2017, renewing the mandate of the CTED and addressing the threat of FTFs, respectively, several Western states argued that screening processes need to reflect some discernment between FTFs and their families rather than an automatic assumption that the families are complicit. However, Russia argued that FTFs should be held criminally liable and that family members travelling with FTFs are complicit by default and should be held accountable.

UN DOCUMENTS ON COUNTER-TERRORISM
Security Council Resolutions
20 September 2019S/RES/2490 This resolution renewed the mandate of UNITAD until 21 September 2020.
28 March 2019S/RES/2462 This was a resolution on combatting the financing of terrorism.
21 December 2017S/RES/2396 This was a resolution addressing the threat of foreign terrorist fighters.
21 December 2017S/RES/2395 This resolution renewed the mandate of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) until 31 December 2021.
21 September 2017S/RES/2379 This resolution established an investigative team tasked with collecting, storing and preserving evidence of ISIL crimes in Iraq.
20 July 2017S/RES/2368 This was a resolution renewing and updating the 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) & Al-Qaida Sanctions regime. Through an annex to the resolution, eight individuals or organisations were added to the sanctions list.
Secretary-General’s Reports
31 July 2019S/2019/612 This was the ninth strategic-level report of the Secretary-General on the threat posed
by ISIL (Da’esh) to international peace and security and the range of United Nations efforts in countering the threat.
Security Council Letters
13 November 2019S/2019/878 This was from the Special Adviser and head of UNITAD, transmitting the third report on the activities of UNITAD.
17 May 2019S/2019/407 This was the second report of the Special Adviser and head of UNITAD.
Security Council Meeting Records
26 November 2019S/PV.8675 This was the Council’s third briefing by Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, the Special Adviser and head of UNITAD.
25 September 2019S/PV.8626 This was a ministerial-level debate on cooperation between the UN and regional and subregional organisations, focusing on the role of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in countering threats to peace and security, with a special focus on counter-terrorism efforts.
27 August 2019S/PV.8605 This was a briefing on the ninth report of the Secretary-General on the threat posed by ISIL (Da’esh).