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Counter-Terrorism: Videoconference Briefing

Tomorrow (10 February), Security Council members are scheduled to hold a videoconference briefing on the Secretary-General’s 12th biannual strategic-level report (S/2021/98) on the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or Da’esh) under the agenda item “Threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts”. Under-Secretary-General Vladimir Voronkov, the head of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, and Assistant Secretary-General Michèle Coninsx, the Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, are expected to brief.

Voronkov and Coninsx are expected to note that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in the threat posed by ISIL, as stated in the Secretary-General’s report. ISIL was able to enhance its operations both within and outside conflict zones during the reporting period due to the disruptions caused by the pandemic. However, according to information provided by member states, ISIL has not been able to develop a coherent propaganda strategy that takes advantage of the pandemic.

The briefers and Council members are also expected to address the prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration of foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs). In his report, the Secretary-General reiterated his call for states to voluntarily repatriate their citizens living in camps or detention centres in Iraq and north-east Syria. Their situation remains unsustainable, according to the Secretary-General: challenges to their basic human rights include lack of protection, water, sanitation, shelter, hygiene, and education. He also emphasised that the voluntary repatriation of these individuals by their home countries  “remains an urgent, strategic imperative for international peace and security”.  According to assessments by member states, the potential global threat posed by ISIL fighters—including FTFs—and their families is growing.

The situation in the Syrian al-Hawl refugee camp is expected to be addressed in the meeting, with 65,000 people—7,000 of them children—living in the overcrowded camp. The Secretary-General, in his report, spoke about cases of incitement of external operations, radicalisation, fundraising and training in the camp, with ISIL supporters calling it “the final remnant of the caliphate”.

The pandemic has further reduced efforts by states to repatriate their nationals. Uzbekistan is reportedly leading in the number of repatriated citizens with 73 children and 25 women from two camps in Syria; other states have repatriated in very low numbers. Overall, there are about 27,500 foreign children in camps in north-eastern Syria, according to the Secretary-General.

The briefers may address UN entities’ efforts to support countering the financing of ISIL. According to the Secretary-General, ISIL in Iraq and Syria finances its operations through cash reserves, commercial activities, payments from abroad, and criminal activities such as kidnap for ransom and the extortion of businesses and individuals. Countering the financing of terrorism has grown more difficult for states due to terrorists’ increased reliance on social media and the internet to move and raise funds, including through cryptocurrencies. Council members might address measures that they have taken to counter ISIL’s efforts to finance terrorism.

Developments in different regions—that is, the activities of various ISIL affiliates—are also expected to feature in tomorrow’s meeting. In territories formerly under its control in Iraq and Syria, ISIL is estimated to have about 10,000 active fighters (including FTF’s), the majority being in Iraq. A protracted insurgency in desert and rural areas is being pursued and maintained by ISIL in both countries.

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant-Yemen (ISIL-Yemen, sanctioned by the Council), reportedly lost its leader Abu al-Walid al-Adani in August 2020 during an operation by the Houthi rebel group.

In Afghanistan, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan (ISIL-K, also sanctioned by the Council) continues to claim responsibility for high-profile attacks, despite its inability to hold large portions of territory in the country due to a lack of military capabilities. According to the Secretary-General’s report, between 1,000 and 2,200 ISIL-K fighters are believed to operate in Afghanistan.

In Western Europe, the threat of attacks by individuals inspired by ISIL persists, as shown by several attacks during the reporting period.

Several ISIL-affiliates are operating in a number of African countries. In Libya, the Secretary-General reported that ISIL-Libya (sanctioned by the Council), continues to decline, especially after its leader died in September 2020. He emphasised, however, that ISIL-Libya still has a presence in the south of the country and reportedly has sleeper cells in some coastal towns.

Both Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’Awati Wal-Jihad (known as Boko Haram), and the Islamic State West Africa Province are maintaining their operations in the Lake Chad Basin area. The two are under Council sanctions.

In Mozambique, Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP) supporters continue to hold control of the port of the town Mocímboa da Praia, which they took over on 11 August 2020. Such groups present a cohesive threat to Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province in the north of the country, according to the Secretary-General; they also carried out an attack in Tanzania on 16 October 2020.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, ISCAP continues to attack in the provinces of Ituri and North Kivu. In attacks on military targets it has seized armaments and weaponry. In Beni, it attacked a prison in Kangbayi in order to free its operatives. According to the Secretary-General’s report, more than 1,000 prisoners escaped, including around 200 ISCAP operatives.

Briefers and Council members may also report on measures taken to combat the threat posed by ISIL in the areas of international legal cooperation, criminal justice, law enforcement, border management, the prevention and countering of violent extremism conducive to terrorism, and countering terrorist narratives.

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