Counter-Terrorism: Briefing on the Secretary-General’s Strategic-Level Report on ISIL/Da’esh
Tomorrow (9 February), the Security Council will convene for a briefing on the Secretary-General’s 14th biannual strategic-level report (S/2022/63) 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 for Counter-Terrorism and head of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) Vladimir Voronkov and Acting Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate (CTED) Weixiong Chen are expected to brief.
Voronkov and Chen are likely to note that the threat posed by Da’esh and its affiliates continued to increase during the second half of 2021. The Secretary-General’s report, which was issued on 28 January, indicates that the threat of Da’esh has continued the trajectory observed in previous reports and remains significant. The report describes the interplay between terrorism and conflict and the threat of regional spillover as a “strategic challenge”. It further notes that although the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to impede terrorists’ ability to raise money, identify, and attack suitable targets, member states continue to expect that attacks may occur when lockdowns ease.
Da’esh’s recent leadership losses are likely to be discussed during tomorrow’s meeting. In October 2021, Iraqi authorities announced that they had arrested Sami Jasim, a senior figure in Da’esh’s leadership who was responsible for managing the group’s finances. On 3 February, Da’esh’s leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi was killed during a pre-dawn raid conducted by the US military in northwest Syria. The Secretary-General’s report, which was issued prior to al-Qurayshi’s death, notes that successful counter-terrorism efforts have severely weakened Da’esh’s senior leadership. Some Council members may refer to these developments in their statements and emphasise that counter-terrorism operations have an important role to play in thwarting Da’esh.
The situation of suspected Da’esh fighters held in detention in conflict zones, as well as the women and children associated with them, may also be raised tomorrow. The Secretary-General’s report indicates that there has been no improvement in these individuals’ detention conditions, which are characterised by “considerable hardship, curtailed humanitarian assistance, violations of fundamental rights and freedoms and a volatile security situation”. The report expresses particular concern about facilities in Syria’s northeast and refers to reports of children being detained without due process or consideration of the best interests of the child. It also says that detaining these children without legal justification may constitute a breach of international human rights law and calls on member states to facilitate the voluntary repatriation of the women and children concerned.
In this context, Council members might discuss the 20 January Da’esh attack on Ghwaryan prison in Al-Hasakeh in Syria’s northeast, which sparked the biggest clashes between Da’esh and US-led forces since 2019. Hundreds of people were killed and Da’esh fighters reportedly used children as human shields during the fighting. Council members are expected to condemn this attack. Some members may highlight the importance of voluntary repatriation, prosecution, rehabilitation, and reintegration of suspected Da’esh fighters and the women and children associated with them.
Da’esh’s recent activity in Africa is another likely topic of discussion. The Secretary-General’s report describes the emergence of a regional terrorism threat in Central and Eastern Africa, which is characterised by the proliferation of funds, intensified recruitment efforts, and terrorist tactics linked to Da’esh affiliates in Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The report also says that Da’esh affiliates in West Africa, including the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), “have made decisive progress by exploiting local grievances, overwhelming stretched security forces, and navigating complex inter-relationships between armed groups”. Council members are expected to express concern regarding Da’esh’s growing presence in Africa in their statements tomorrow.
Developments in other regions are also likely to be discussed at the meeting. According to the Secretary-General’s report, the strength of Da’esh’s affiliate in Afghanistan, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan (ISIL-K) has increased from an estimated 2,200 fighters to approximately 4,000. Member states are reportedly concerned that terrorist groups in Afghanistan now enjoy more freedom “than at any time in recent history”, while ISIL-K is believed to be capable of carrying out high-profile, complex attacks in Afghanistan and “aims to position itself as the chief rejectionist force in Afghanistan”.
In Iraq and Syria, Da’esh retains between 6,000 and 10,000 fighters and continues to operate as an entrenched rural insurgency by carrying out attacks that involve hit-and-run-operations, ambushes, and roadside bombs. Regarding Europe, the Secretary-General’s report notes that authorities have reported a pattern of homegrown terrorism cases involving young people with “underlying vulnerabilities, a fascination with extreme violence and personal grievances, which make them receptive to Da’esh and Al-Qaida propaganda”. In South-East Asia, some member states reported an overall decline in terrorist activity and optimism that the operational capability of several groups in the region has been degraded by counter-terrorism operations.
Council members are also expected to address countering terrorist narratives and the use of the internet for terrorist recruitment tomorrow. The Secretary-General’s report describes “online terrorist radicalisation and recruitment” as one of the foremost concerns relating to Da’esh in non-conflict zones and notes that the group and its affiliates have continued attempting to exploit socioeconomic hardship, grievances, and political tensions. When discussing these issues, some Council members are likely to emphasise the importance of adopting a holistic approach to counter-terrorism that respects human rights and addresses the root causes of violence and extremism.
Countering terrorism financing is also likely to be discussed at tomorrow’s meeting. The Secretary-General’s report indicates that Da’esh’s leadership continues to control substantial financial resources, with member states estimating that it has access to between $25 and $50 million in funds. The report also notes member states’ assessment that Da’esh has the ability to transfer significant sums of money to its overseas affiliates and 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, delivered capacity-building support to Indonesia, Mali, North Macedonia, Senegal, and Tajikistan on financial investigation and assisted Burkina Faso, Niger, and Somalia with financial disruption plans. Some Council members may emphasise that measures to counter terrorist financing must comply with international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law.