Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as Da’esh, and its affiliates continue to exploit conflict-related fragility to plan and conduct terrorist attacks while the international community faces a rash of overlapping challenges that risk complicating counter-terrorism responses and fuelling extremism, senior United Nations officials told the Security Council today, as members debated how best to address this proliferating threat.
Vladimir Voronkov, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, briefing the Council on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the threat posed by ISIL/Da’esh (document S/2022/576), said that the group and its affiliates continue to exploit conflict dynamics, governance fragilities and inequality to organize attacks, as well as pandemic-related restrictions and misused digital spaces to recruit sympathizers and attract resources. The group has accomplished this by partially resorting to a largely decentralized structure to incite followers to carry out attacks and to control the flow of funds to affiliates worldwide.
Against that backdrop, he stressed that better understanding and continued monitoring of this structure is necessary for countering and preventing the threat. However, despite the persistence of this threat, joint efforts by Member States continue to yield positive results, including recent repatriations by Iraq, Tajikistan and France. Still, tens of thousands of individuals from some 60 countries remain deprived of basic rights and are at a very real risk of radicalization and recruitment. He therefore reiterated the Secretary-General’s call for Member States to facilitate the safe, voluntary and dignified repatriation of all individuals who remain stuck in camps and other facilities.
Weixiong Chen, Acting Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, also highlighted how exploitation of conflict-related fragility remains at the heart of ISIL/Da’esh’s strategy, notably in Iraq, Syria and across Africa. The international community faces a range of overlapping global challenges that risk complicating counter-terrorism responses and exacerbating the threat posed by terrorist groups. In addition, the global food crisis could catalyse the spread of terrorism and violent extremism. Enhanced multilateralism, international cooperation and global solidarity are the only ways to counter a global terrorist threat like ISIL/Da’esh, he stressed, adding that a comprehensive, coordinated “All-of-UN” approach remains crucial to developing and implementing effective counter-terrorism measures.
Martin Ewi, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, pointed out that Africa is not only a hub for ISIL/Da’esh activity but could also be the future of the Da’esh caliphate. At least 20 African countries have directly experienced such activity, and more than 20 others are being used for logistics and for mobilizing funds and other resources. Africa’s natural resources are being used to finance terrorism, while grievances over the Palestinian problem remain the driver of radicalization. More so, studies show irrefutable evidence that many young people joined ISIL/Da’esh and other terror groups because of poverty and unemployment. Inconsistent State responses and international double-standards further complicate matters. While an international coalition arose to defeat ISIL/Da’esh in Syria and Iraq — driving terrorism downstream to Africa — no similar coalition was mounted to defeat the group on the continent.
Underscoring that the political, economic, social and ideological roots of terrorism must be addressed, he recalled how the Organization of African Unity provided the political centre for the anti-colonial struggle and stressed that a similar centre is needed to win this war. However, the Council is too far away in New York and its resolutions are not implemented in Africa. “Most terrorists that are blacklisted do not know that they are blacklisted”, he said. The solution lies at the community level, he stressed, calling on the Council to work more closely with the African Union, regional economic communities and civil society.
In the ensuing discussion, many Council members offered varied approaches, including tackling the root causes of terrorism and violent extremism, repatriating foreign terrorist fighters and countering terrorist misuse of the digital space. Others focused on the need to adopt a whole-of-society approach to countering terrorism that is gender-sensitive and respects human rights and the rule of law.
“We must not allow Da’esh and other groups to hijack a religion of tolerance,” stressed the representative of the United Arab Emirates, pointing out that “there is nothing Islamic about terrorism”. As such, Member States and the United Nations should end the use of “Islamic State” to refer to Da’esh. Further, he underscored that the Council must urgently prioritize efforts to prevent the emergence of the next generation of terrorists and extremists, spotlighting conditions at the Al-Hol refugee camp in Syria where 25,000 children are at the risk of radicalization.
Brazil’s representative also voiced concern over the detention of foreign terrorist fighters and their families in Syria, emphasizing that the prospect of safe, voluntary and dignified repatriation for these individuals may save them from violent extremism. Noting that the Secretary-General’s report finds that terrorism and armed conflict are mutually reinforcing, he stressed the need to consider the causes of conflict and radicalization conducive to terrorism. “We must also understand why some people are vulnerable to terrorist ideology,” he added.
The representative of Ireland said that effective responses to counter and prevent terrorism demand a whole-of-society approach that addresses the underlying grievances that increase vulnerability to radicalization. Too often, counter-terrorism measures are misused to crack down on civil society and repress human rights and freedoms. Also stressing the importance of a gender-responsive approach across the Council’s agenda, she said: “We want to see more consistent and comprehensive evidence as to how gender considerations inform the United Nations’ counter-terrorism work”.
On that point, Mexico’s representative thanked the Secretary-General, the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism and the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate for heeding his country’s request to incorporate in the report a reference to the role played by masculinities in terrorist groups and the way in which terrorist groups and networks interact with society. That aspect is crucial if the international community is to adopt more-effective approaches to prevent and combat violent extremism that leads to terrorism.
Providing an African perspective, the representative of Ghana said that the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing aggression against Ukraine have degraded the fiscal capacity of many developing countries to address the growing demands of their populations. Therefore, global support must be enhanced to undercut the ideologies of violent extremist groups who exploit long-standing vulnerabilities. Such support, he said, could take the form of debt cancellation and restructuring to enable developing countries to build back better and adequately tackle the security challenges in their countries.
Also speaking were representatives of the United States, Norway, France, Gabon, United Kingdom, Kenya, Russian Federation, Albania, India and China.
The meeting began at 10:04 a.m. and ended at 12:10 p.m.