Counter-Terrorism: Briefing on the Secretary-General’s Strategic-Level Report on ISIL/Da’esh*
Tomorrow (19 August), the Security Council is scheduled to hold a ministerial-level briefing on the Secretary-General’s 13th biannual strategic-level report 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”. India’s Minister of External Affairs, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, will chair the meeting. Under-Secretary-General Vladimir Voronkov, the head of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT), and Assistant Secretary-General Michèle Coninsx, the Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED), are expected to brief. A civil society representative from Afghanistan is also expected to brief.
India has circulated a draft press statement ahead of tomorrow’s meeting. Among other things, the draft text condemns all instances of terrorism and expresses concern over Da’esh’s efforts to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of writing, negotiations on the text were still ongoing.
Voronkov and Coninsx are likely to note that the threat posed by Da’esh remained steady during the first six months of 2021. As described in the Secretary-General’s report, which was issued on 27 July, Da’esh has continued to exploit the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including by taking advantage of political tensions and grievances arising from social restrictions and economic challenges. The report says that the threat of Da’esh in non-conflict zones remains suppressed by restrictions that were imposed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, which prevent Da’esh operatives from travelling, meeting, fundraising, and identifying viable targets. However, it indicates that Da’esh may be planning to carry out attacks once restrictions are eased.
The Afghan civil society representative is likely to discuss recent events in Afghanistan and their effect on the threat posed by Da’esh. Several analysts have suggested that the Taliban’s seizure of power could create an environment that allows extremist groups, including Da’esh, to establish a greater presence in Afghanistan. The Secretary-General’s report notes that Da’esh’s Afghan affiliate, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant—Khorasan (IS-KP), has expanded its presence in several provinces and strengthened its positions in and around Kabul, where it launches attacks against different groups in Afghan society. It also indicates that member states estimate that IS-KP currently controls between 500 and 1,500 fighters in Afghanistan and that these figures “may rise to as many as 10,000 in the medium term”. Council members may refer to recent developments in Afghanistan in their statements and emphasise that Afghanistan should not become a haven for terrorist activity.
The growing threat posed by Da’esh in Africa might also be a focus of tomorrow’s meeting. According to the Secretary-General’s report, Da’esh affiliates have been able to spread their influence and increase their activities across national borders in several countries in Africa, including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, and Tanzania. The report suggests that some of the most effective Da’esh affiliates are active in Africa and notes that the continent “is also where groups designated as terrorist by the Security Council have inflicted the largest number of casualties”.
Developments in other regions are expected to be discussed as well. In Syria and Iraq, Da’esh remains active and continues to wage hit-and-run operations against checkpoints and critical infrastructure as part of an ongoing insurgency. Da’esh’s affiliate in Yemen is in decline and is understood to be “preoccupied with stabilising itself and regrouping”. The Secretary-General’s report says that authorities in Europe are concerned by the radicalisation of teenagers online and inmates incarcerated in European prisons, as well as the threat of complex attacks from organised individuals. It also notes that Da’esh affiliates in South-East Asia continue to mount attacks, some of which are planned and executed by women.
Countering the financing of terrorism is likely to be addressed during the meeting. Social media crowdfunding campaigns, trading in cryptocurrency and transfers facilitated by financial institutions, money service businesses, and cash couriers are among fundraising techniques utilised by Da’esh. In Iraq and Syria, Da’esh is estimated to have access to between $25 million and $50 million in funds. The Secretary-General’s report outlines several measures that relevant UN entities have implemented to address the financing of terrorism. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), for example, launched a project on the disruption of terrorism financing and targeted financial sanctions against terrorist entities in Mozambique. In discussing this issue, some Council members may emphasise the importance of ensuring that measures designed to combat the financing of terrorism take into account their potential effects on humanitarian activities and comply with international law, including humanitarian law, international human rights law, and international refugee law. This issue was raised by several Council members in an 11 August Arria-formula meeting on “humanitarian action: overcoming challenges in situations of armed conflict and counter-terrorism operations”.
Some Council members may reference the prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration of foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) and the women and children who are associated with them. In his report, the Secretary-General describes increased violence in the camps that house FTFs and the women and children who are associated with them and efforts by extremist groups to radicalise the inhabitants of these camps. He further notes the risk of orchestrated escapes, particularly in response to potential outbreaks of COVID-19. The Secretary-General reiterates his call for “the voluntary repatriation of all concerned individuals, with a particular focus on women and children, in line with international law and with the consent of relevant governments as a paramount consideration in all such efforts”.
*Post-script: On 19 August, Council members issued a press statement following the meeting. Among other matters, the press statement condemned all instances of terrorism and expresses concern over Da’esh’s efforts to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic, its increasing use of information and communication technologies and its expansion in different regions, including Africa. It also urged states to criminalise the financing of terrorism and underscored the importance of international cooperation to prevent and counter the use of information and communications technology for terrorist purposes.
During the negotiations on the press statement, at least one Council member apparently proposed including language that urged states to take account of the effect that measures designed to counter the financing of terrorism can have on humanitarian activities which are carried out by impartial humanitarian actors. Some Council members also sought to include language that called on states to combat threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts in accordance with the UN Charter and their obligations under international human rights law, international humanitarian law, and international refugee law. These proposals were not incorporated into the final text.