By Prudence Arobani
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – or Syria (ISIL/Da’esh) still has no fewer than 20,000 ISIS fighters.
It is continuing its dangerous transformation into a covert global network, UN counter-terror officials said.
The officials also said that in spite of serious military setbacks, ISIL – also referred to as ISIS – continues to pose a “serious challenge” worldwide while focusing on the activities of its regional offshoots.
These were among the key findings in a new United Nations report into the threats posed by ISIL presented to the UN Security Council on Thursday by senior UN counter-terrorism officials.
The report also detailed how UN member states and the UN system were continuing to strengthen, refine and promote the effective use of tools and measures to address the evolving transnational threat posed by the terrorist group and its affiliates.
Vladimir Voronkov, Under-Secretary-General of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, was joined by Ms Michèle Coninsx, Executive Director of the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate during the presentation.
The two senior officials broke the report down into three main areas, assuring the council members that “the global fight against ISIL and its affiliates continues.”
“Firstly, despite a major loss of territory, there are still around 20,000 ISIL members in both Iraq and Syria, and a core of fighters is expected to survive, thanks to ongoing conflict and instability.
“A significant number of ISIL-affiliated militants also exist in Afghanistan, South-East Asia, West Africa and Libya, and to a lesser extent in Sinai, Yemen, Somalia and the Sahel,” Voronkov said.
He said ISIL continued to exert a presence and influence across a wide spectrum of countries and regions, noting Indonesia was hit by a series of deadly suicide bombings in May, while in Europe, there is concern over commercially encrypted messages and radicalisation in prisons.
“Secondly, whilst the flow of foreign ISIL fighters returning home is slower than feared, the dangers posed by bomb-making expertise gained in conflict zones (such as the preparation of improvised explosive devices and weaponised drones) is a major cause for concern.
“Former fighters back in their home countries have the potential to radicalise others, whether in the prison system or wider society, and member states continue to experience difficulties in assessing the risks they pose and must develop tailored strategies for their returning and relocation.
“And third, the evolution of ISIL (from a proto-state structure into a covert network) has driven the group’s finances underground, making them much harder to detect.
“It still has the capacity to channel funds across borders, often via intermediate countries, to their final destination,’’ he said.
Referring to the report, Voronkov noted that member states and the international community must renew their efforts to counter the evolving, global threat from ISIL.
Within the UN, he said several entities were working closely together to counter the group, addressing such critical areas as the financing of terrorism, international judicial cooperation, prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration.
Coninsx added that the UN was supporting member states with the most up-to-date technologies to secure their borders, providing guidance for the effective use of these technologies in full compliance with international human rights law.
“We also continue to forge new and innovative partnerships with the private sector, including in particular in the area of information and communications technologies,” she said.
Coninsx stressed that such engagement was essential with respect to gathering digital evidence in terrorism cases.