What's In Blue

Posted Mon 8 Aug 2022

Counter-Terrorism: Briefing on the Secretary-General’s Strategic Level Report on ISIL/Da’esh

Tomorrow (9 August), the Security Council will convene for a briefing on the Secretary-General’s 15th biannual strategic level report (S/2022/576) on the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) to international peace and security. 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. A representative of civil society with counter-terrorism experience in Africa is also expected to brief.

Voronkov and Chen are likely to note that the threat posed by Da’esh and its affiliates continued to rise during the first half of 2022. The Secretary-General’s report, which was issued on 26 July, says that there has been no deviation from the trend observed during the past two years and indicates that the threat remains particularly high in conflict-affected areas. It also says that the threat may spill over to non-conflict areas and notes that both Da’esh and its affiliates “continue to exploit security gaps and conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism to recruit and to organize and execute complex attacks”, despite the terrorist group’s recent leadership losses. The report further notes that the downturn in the global economy and inflation, together with the fiscal and monetary measures implemented by member states to manage these problems, may exacerbate existing conditions conducive to terrorism and increase the threat posed by Da’esh.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are expected to express concern about the activities of Da’esh and its affiliates in Africa. The Secretary-General notes that the situation in Africa has further deteriorated since his previous report and that two of the three “most dynamic” Da’esh networks are based in Africa: the Karrar “office”, which is based in Somalia and covers the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Mozambique, and Somalia, and the Furquan “office”, which is based in the Lake Chad basin and is responsible for Nigeria and its neighbouring countries. The report also says that member states remain “acutely concerned” about the rising incidence of terrorist violence on the continent, describing several examples of violence perpetrated by African organisations with links to Da’esh. In the DRC, for example, the Allied Democratic Forces, a group that has pledged allegiance to Da’esh, killed more than 383 civilians between December 2021 and February 2022.

Developments in other regions are also likely to be discussed tomorrow. According to the Secretary General’s report, Da’esh’s Siddiq “office”, which is based in Afghanistan and covers South Asia, is the third of the “most dynamic” Da’esh networks. The report notes that Da’esh considers Afghanistan to be a base for expansion in the wider region and indicates that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan (ISIL-K), Da’esh’s Afghan affiliate, is seeking to bolster its strength by recruiting additional members and may “develop a global threat capability”, if it regains control of territory in eastern Afghanistan. In light of these findings, some Council members may highlight the importance of preventing Afghanistan from becoming a haven for terrorism at tomorrow’s meeting.

In Iraq and Syria, Da’esh remains a persistent threat with the ability to organise complex attacks, such as the 20 January attack on Ghwaryan prison in Al-Hasakeh in Syria, which led to the biggest clashes between Da’esh and US-led forces since 2019. Da’esh has also suffered significant leadership losses in Iraq and Syria, including the recent killing of Maher al-Agal by the US military. In a 12 July statement, US Central Command (CENTCOM) described al-Agal as “one of the top five [Da’esh] leaders and the leader of [Da’esh] in Syria” and said that he was “responsible for aggressively pursuing the development of [Da’esh] networks outside of Iraq and Syria”. The Secretary-General’s report notes, however, that member states have observed “no significant change of direction for the group or its operations” in Iraq and Syria, despite recent leadership attrition.

The situation of suspected Da’esh fighters held in detention in north-east Syria, as well as the women and children associated with them, is expected to be raised tomorrow. According to the Secretary-General’s report, the circumstances of these individuals “further deteriorated” during the reporting period, with dozens of assassinations carried out in camps and prisons and reports of increased violence and killings in the al-Hawl camp. The report also says that one member state has reported that 30,000 children held in north-east Syria are under the age of 12 and at risk of being indoctrinated by Da’esh, including through its “Cubs of the Caliphate” programme. During tomorrow’s meeting, some Council members are expected to emphasise the importance of voluntary repatriation, prosecution, rehabilitation, and reintegration of suspected Da’esh fighters and the women and children associated with them.

Council members are also expected to address the prevention of terrorism and countering terrorist narratives tomorrow. The Secretary-General’s report notes that Da’esh continues to exploit conflict, governance failure, political turmoil, socioeconomic inequality, and grievances to recruit followers and incite terrorist attacks. It also expresses concern about the impact of food insecurity in West Africa and suggests that it could “exacerbate fragilities and fuel local conflict dynamics” and “catalyse the spread of terrorism”. Given these challenges, the Secretary-General underscores the need for comprehensive responses to counter and prevent terrorism. When discussing these issues, some Council members are expected to emphasise the importance of a whole of society approach to counter-terrorism that respects human rights, aligns with international law, and addresses the root causes of violence and extremism. Some members might also argue that counter-terrorism policies should be gender-sensitive.

Countering the financing of terrorism is another likely topic of discussion. The Secretary-General’s report indicates that member states have assessed that Da’esh controls approximately $25 million in funds and reported that the group’s ability to direct funds to its affiliates remains resilient. Council members may emphasise the importance of international cooperation in combatting the financing of terrorism and the need to prevent terrorist groups from using new technologies to finance their operations. Some Council members might call for the full implementation of resolution 2642 of 28 March 2019 which, among other matters, decided that all member states shall ensure that their domestic laws and regulations establish serious criminal offences regarding the financing of terrorism.

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