Threats to International Peace and Security caused by Terrorist Acts - Security Council Open VTC

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10-Feb-2021 01:56:36
ISIL must be defeated in cyberspace, Under-Secretary-General tells Security Council, as terrorist group takes advantage of pandemic-related disruptions.

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Increased online exposure to extremist propaganda and incitement could lead to a sudden rash of terrorist attacks when pandemic-induced movement restrictions ease, the top United Nations counter-terrorism official warned today as the Security Council discussed threats posed by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh).

“We must defeat ISIL in the cyberspace,” said Vladimir Voronkov, Under‑Secretary-General for Counter-Terrorism and the head of the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, in his briefing to the 15‑member organ on the Secretary‑General’s twelfth biannual strategic report (document S/2021/98) on ISIL threats.

He said that the group intensified its efforts to regroup and reinvigorate its activities in the second half of 2020, although it has not developed a purposeful strategy to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic. Its core in Iraq and Syria and its affiliates in other conflict zones have continued to take advantage of the pandemic-related disruption to step up their operations, with several high-profile attacks.

Member States warn that ISIL could regain the capacity to orchestrate attacks in different parts of the world in 2021, he reported, adding that, outside conflict zones, the risk of exposure to ISIL propaganda and incitement has continued to grow as people — especially the youth — spend more time at home and online.

“This could lead to a sudden rash of attacks in some countries, when COVID‑19-related movement restrictions ease,” he said, adding that the socioeconomic toll and political fallout of the pandemic could further aggravate the longer-term threat posed by ISIL and other terrorist groups by widening the pool of individuals receptive to radicalization and recruitment.

Some 10,000 ISIL fighters, including foreign terrorist fighters, remain active, most of them in Iraq, pursuing a protracted insurgency, he said. These sizable remnants are assessed to pose a major, long-term and global threat. More tragically, he added, the international community has made little progress in addressing the situation of thousands of individuals, mostly women and children, suspected of having links with ISIL and held in precarious conditions in the region. The already dire humanitarian and security situation in the detention facilities and displacement camps is deteriorating even further, especially in the Syrian Al-Hol refugee site, where many instances of terrorist radicalization, fundraising, training and incitement have been reported.

He reiterated the Secretary-General’s call on Member States for the voluntary repatriation of adults and children stranded in Iraq and Syria, commending Kazakhstan, Russian Federation and Uzbekistan for having repatriated hundreds of affected children from north-east Syria. Other States, especially European countries, have conducted fewer repatriations, he added, expressing hope that they will step up their efforts.

Turning to other regions, he said ISIL affiliates in West Africa conducted numerous attacks against the military and civilians at the end of 2020 in the tri‑border area among Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, and in the Lake Chad Basin, demonstrating determination and adaptability. The Islamic State Central Africa Province is emerging as a strong regional affiliate, employing sophisticated tactics and capabilities, emboldened by recent operational successes in Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In Europe, a string of attacks in France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland, partly inspired by ISIL, provided a stark reminder of the diffuse threat from homegrown terrorist attacks by lone actors, he said, noting that, in Asia, ISIL’s affiliate in Afghanistan is assessed to still have between 1,000 and 2,200 fighters spread across several provinces.

Highlighting the launch of a new global programme on countering terrorist threats against vulnerable targets, including from unmanned aerial systems, he said his office also established a new global framework to better coordinate the provision of support from 15 United Nations entities, regarding individuals returned from or remaining in Iraq and north-east Syria. In addition, it has made significant progress in helping Member States implement programmes to counter terrorist travel.

Noting that this year marks the twentieth anniversary of Security Council resolution 1373 (2001), which established the Counter-Terrorism Committee in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States, he said “the time could not be more relevant for Member States to recommit themselves to multilateral action against terrorism, under the auspices of the United Nations”.

Echoing his remarks, Michèle Coninsx, Executive Director of the Counter‑Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED), said that, as the terrorist threat has evolved, so, too, has the response of the United Nations.

Stressing the unique role played by CTED — the Committee’s secretariat body — in supporting Member States’ efforts to implement Security Council anti‑terrorism resolutions, she said plans are in place to conduct a hybrid follow-up assessment visit to Iraq and other neighbouring States to identify the remaining challenges in the region.

Further, she said, CTED continues to prioritize the Committee’s recommendations to Member States on dealing with returning and relocating foreign terrorist fighters formerly associated with ISIL, citing the recent launch of a joint initiative with Indonesia, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Counter-Terrorism Office to identify and disseminate good practices across South and South-East Asia.

In this regard, CTED has continued to strengthen its dialogue with 14 Member States particularly impacted by the phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters to help them develop their capacities in the areas of border management, law enforcement and firearms control, through deep-dive assessment missions.

CTED’s analysis indicates that COVID-19’s financial impact may make terrorist groups more reliant on criminal activities, including drug smuggling, trafficking minerals and precious stones, fraud, cybercrime and the sale of counterfeit medicines. Starting in 2021, CTED will produce annual assessments of gaps identified and areas requiring more action in relation to States’ implementation of countering terrorist financing. It also recently launched an initiative to produce guidance for States on countering the financing of terrorism.

CTED’s analysis also indicates that COVID-19 has detracted attention or redirected resources from several long‑standing counter-terrorism policy challenges. CTED’s ongoing efforts to help Member States review and update their national legislation have also strengthened their ability to bring terrorists to justice while protecting and promoting international human rights law and international humanitarian law, she said.

“We must continue to encourage the identification of shared, global priorities based on universal values of justice, equality and human dignity,” she said, stressing that this can be achieved only through a comprehensive, coordinated, “One-UN” approach aimed at helping Member States develop and implement effective counter-terrorism measures while addressing conditions conducive to terrorism and violent extremism.

In the ensuing discussion, Council members noted the need to address resurgent ISIL threats, not only in Iraq and Syria, but also in other parts of the world, including in Africa, Europe and Asia, while also underscoring the importance of defeating its presence in cyberspace. They also emphasized the need to prevent radicalization of young people and address the root causes of terrorism.

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