“Da’esh and its affiliates continue to exploit conflict dynamics, governance fragility and inequality to instigate, plan and organize terrorist attacks,” said Vladimir Voronkov, UN chief counter-terrorism officer, at the 15th anniversary conference. report of the Secretary General.
They are also taking advantage of pandemic restrictions, misusing digital spaces to recruit sympathizers, and have “significantly” increased the use of unmanned aerial systems, as reported in northern Iraq.
Decentralized structure, methods
In charting Da’esh’s expansion across Iraq, Syria and through areas of Africa that had until recently been largely spared from attacks, Mr. Voronkov attributed their success in part to a decentralized structure aimed at a ” general directorate of provinces” and associated “offices”.
These are active in both Iraq and Syria, but also outside the nuclear conflict area, in particular in Afghanistan, Somalia and Lake Chad.
Better understanding and oversight, including through global and regional cooperation, are key to addressing the threat.
Vulnerabilities around the world
Mr Voronkov gave an overview and said the border between Iraq and Syria remains very fragile, with an estimated 10,000 fighters in the area.
In April, the group launched a global campaign to avenge senior leaders killed in counter-terrorism operations.
While the number of attacks claimed or attributed to the local Da’esh branch in Afghanistan has declined since the Taliban took control last year, their presence has expanded to the northeast and east of the country.
In Europe, Da’esh has called on sympathizers to carry out attacks taking advantage of the easing of pandemic restrictions and the conflict in Ukraine.
Africa in sight
Meanwhile, the senior UN official in Africa described Da’esh’s expansion across the central, southern and western parts of the continent.
From Uganda, one branch expanded its operations into the Democratic Republic of Congo, while another – after being knocked out by military action in 2021 – intensified small-scale attacks in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province.
The expansion has even affected coastal countries in the Gulf of Guinea, which had previously been spared from violence.
As for funding, Mr Voronkov said Da’esh leaders manage between $25 and $50 million in assets, significantly less than was estimated three years ago.
However, the diversity of both legal and illegal sources underscores the importance of continued efforts to reduce terrorist financing.
While applauding the recent repatriations by Iraq, Tajikistan and France, he expressed concern that the limited progress made so far in repatriating foreign terrorist fighters and their families is “far overshadowed by the number of individuals still is in a precarious and deteriorating situation”.
Terrorism does not exist in a vacuum — UN Counter-Terrorism Officer
Calls to repatriate foreign fighters
Tens of thousands of individuals – including more than 27,000 children – from Iraq and some 60 other countries continue to face enormous security challenges and humanitarian hardships.
The head of counter-terrorism reiterated the Secretary-General’s call on member states to continue their efforts to facilitate the safe, voluntary and dignified repatriation of all persons detained in camps and other facilities.
“Terrorism does not exist in a vacuum,” said Weixiong Chen, acting executive director of the Executive Directorate of the Counter-Terrorism Committee, which was established in 2001 after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.
He described gains and said the executive directorate, which is a special political mission, was able to resume its on-site assessment visits after two years of virtual and hybrid formats due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
His team released a report summarizing extensive consultations with African civil society groups on ISIL trends in Africa, as well as examining the links between counter-terrorism frameworks and international humanitarian law.
Finally, he called for a comprehensive, coordinated “All of UN” approach, age- and gender-aligned, and in line with human rights as the only way to curb a global terrorist threat like Da’esh.