Despite territorial defeat in Syria, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorist group (ISIL) “continues to aspire to global relevance”, the United Nations top counter-terrorism officials told the Security Council on August 27.
“It capitalizes on its affiliates and inspired attacks and has an estimated residual wealth of up to three hundred million dollars at its disposal”, said Vladimir Voronkov Under-Secretary-General, Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT), in his briefing on the threat ISIL poses to international peace and security.
Moreover, “acute concerns” remain over foreign terrorist fighters, returnees and relocators, he continued, noting that from the initial estimate of 40,000, between 24,000 and 30,000 have survived. Countries also must contend with the threat posed by ISIL sympathizers – the number of whom is hard to estimate.
Stating that “the current lull” in ISIL attacks “may only be temporary”, Voronkov underlined the importance of countries maintaining a comprehensive and long-term perspective in the fight, adding that “urgent political leadership and a principled approached, based on international law” is needed.
While acknowledging ISIL’s defeat in Syria as “a watershed” that ended the “dystopia of the so-called‘caliphate”, Voronkov said that the fall of Baghuz “was not a fatal blow” as the group “continues to evolve into a covert network.
“This follows the same pattern we have seen in Iraq since 2017, where ISIL insurgency activity reportedly designed to prevent normalization and reconstruction efforts continue”, maintained the counterterrorism chief.
Turning to West Africa, he noted “a striking increase in ISIL and al-Qaeda-linked recruitment and violence”, pointing out that “the Islamic State’s West Africa Province is now one of the strongest ISIL affiliates” with some 4,000 fighters that also calls for vigilance.
In Europe, radicalization in prisons and those released from prison remain major concerns that compound the risk of homegrown terrorism at time when ISIL is having trouble sending fighters to the continent, said Voronkov.
And despite military pressure, hundreds of thousands of ISIL fighters in Asia continue to pose a threat. Voronkov recounted two worrying developments in South-East Asia, namely women playing a more active role in attacks and the explicit targeting of places of worship, “which may indicate a new trend”.
The counterterrorism chief drew the Security Council’s attention to the thousands of suspected ISIL fighters and their families currently detained in Iraq and Syria, many of whom are “stranded in overcrowded camps, in dire conditions, generating acute and humanitarian concerns”.
Noting that there are “as many as 70,000 people in Al-Hawl camp in Syria alone, including women and children” with potential links to UN-listed terrorist groups, he said “Member States have the primary responsibility for their own nationals” and urged against Statelessness.
Voronkov said his office would launch on 30 September, a handbook on “ensuring a child rights-based approach” for children affected by the foreign fighter phenomenon.
Meanwhile, Michèle Coninsx, the Executive Director of the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee, said repatriation efforts “should also prepare to deal with the post-repatriation phase, issues of accountability, and the challenges involved in rehabilitation and reintegration”.
Coninsx spoke of her concerns regarding the short sentences given to many returnees, noting that consequently there may be limited opportunities to engage them in rehabilitation and reintegration programmes prior to their release.
Moreover, she said that extended periods of pre-trial detentions without guarantees of due process can “undermine the effectiveness of rehabilitative measures and increase the potential risk” of radicalization within the prison systems.
Coninsx said it is essential that post-repatriation strategies have “short, medium and long-term components” in relation to “prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration”, aligned with human rights, gender sensitivity and the special needs of children.