Islamic State/Da'esh Using Social Media, Extortion to Retain Might after Military Setbacks, Territory Loss, Top Counter-Terrorism Official Tells Security Council

SC/13202
8 February 2018
8178th Meeting (AM)

Islamic State/Da'esh Using Social Media, Extortion to Retain Might after Military Setbacks, Territory Loss, Top Counter-Terrorism Official Tells Security Council

Despite military setbacks and loss of territory last year, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da'esh) was a present and continuing threat, the senior United Nations official for counter‑terrorism told the Security Council today, as he presented the Secretary‑General’s sixth report on the international and regional threat posed by that group (document S/2018/80).

Vladimir Voronkov, Under‑Secretary‑General of the United Nations Office of Counter‑Terrorism, said that because of its losses, ISIL had been forced to focus on smaller groups of individuals who were committed to carrying out attacks.  While the flow of foreign terrorist fighters to Iraq and Syria had almost ended, returning fighters remained a threat.  The group was using social media, including dark web communications tools, to coordinate attacks and extortion and the control of checkpoints, even though other income‑generating abilities had been reduced.

The United Nations and the international community had several tools at its disposal to dispel the threat, he noted, pointing to the ISIL and Al‑Qaida sanctions list, the United Nations capacity‑building implementation plan, and the United Nations Global Counter‑Terrorism Strategy, General Assembly and Security Council resolutions, and various conventions and regional instruments.  Effective implementation of those resolutions and instruments, as well as addressing the underlying causes of violent extremism, would bolster efforts.

The representative of the Netherlands, underscoring that “less territory does not necessarily mean more security”, said that the threat from ISIL remained real, and efforts to prosecute and detain foreign terrorist fighters traveling from Syria and Iraq to other conflict zones must be increased.  In particular, she stressed that States had an obligation to collect airlines’ passenger name records and that it be made a top priority, with the United Nations assisting in that process where necessary.

The speaker for France cautioned that ISIL needed little money to kill indiscriminately in the streets of Paris, New York, Bamako, Baghdad and elsewhere.  Despite efforts to dry up the sources of terrorist revenue, members still had access to such resources as Internet crime, and arms and drugs smuggling.

The representative of Equatorial Guinea noted that many Member States lacked such tools as biometric technology to counter terrorist threats.  Training and technological transfers were important in that regard.  Recalling that his country had only recently neutralized a terrorist attack with help from Cameroon, he said the Council should keep working with the African Union Peace and Security Council on the issue and adopt policies which promoted conflict prevention.

The Russian Federation’s delegate highlighted the pardoning of 400 former ISIL members by the authorities of Syrian Kurdistan, many of whom had then gone on to join the Syrian Democratic Forces.  He also underscored the alarming presence of ISIL staging grounds in northern Afghanistan, and cautioned that the potential for international terrorist contingents to infiltrate that area should not be underestimated.

The representative of Sweden also noted the presence of ISIL in Afghanistan, as well as Libya, and emphasized that it was transforming from a group with territorial ambitions to a network with less control over its affiliates.  Noting that counter‑terrorism efforts should be viewed within the broader global context, including the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, he said that there was a need to pay special attention to the gender dimension of terrorism, as well as to view it through a child rights lens.

The representative of Kuwait, Council President for February, speaking in his national capacity, echoed those sentiments, stressing that the role of women and youth in countering terrorism and violent extremism should be scaled up.

Also speaking today were representatives of the United States, United Kingdom, Peru, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, China, Bolivia, Côte d'Ivoire and Poland.

The meeting began at 9:57 a.m. and ended at 11:52 a.m.

Briefing

VLADIMIR VORONKOV, Under‑Secretary‑General of the United Nations Office of Counter‑Terrorism, briefed the Security Council on the sixth report of the Secretary‑General on the threat posed by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da'esh) to international peace and security and the range of United Nations efforts in support of Member States in countering the threat (document S/2018/80).  He said that the fight against ISIL was entering a new phase.  Despite the significant military setbacks experienced by that group in Iraq, Syria and the Philippines in 2017, it continued to pose a significant and evolving threat.  ISIL was no longer focused on conquering and holding territory.  It had been forced to adapt and focus on smaller, more motivated groups of individuals who remained committed to carrying out attacks.

Although it was difficult to assess with confidence the number of foreign terrorist fighters who remained in Iraq and Syria, the flow of fighters to both countries had nearly come to a halt, he said.  However, returning foreign terrorist fighters, and those who relocated to other regions, remained a considerable threat to international security.  The structure of ISIL’s global propaganda machinery continued to deteriorate.  But its members were still able to use social media — including encryption technology and communications tools within the dark web — to communicate, coordinate and facilitate attacks.  Its ability to generate revenues had been weakened, but it was still able to gain income through extortion and the control of checkpoints.  Regarding ISIL’s evolving threat outside of Iraq and Syria, its affiliates in Egypt had shown considerable resilience and posed a growing threat.  ISIL also remained determined to rebuild its capabilities in Libya and continued to carry out sporadic attacks.  It also continued to operate in Mali and Somalia.  In Afghanistan, it was mounting aggressive attacks, especially in Kabul.

ISIL remained a challenge for Member States and the international community, and the ISIL and Al‑Qaida sanctions list remained one of the key global instruments in that regard, he said.  The United Nations capacity‑building implementation plan for countering the flow of foreign terrorist fighters continued to evolve to address the full life cycle of fighters, and 35 of the 50 projects in the plan had either been completed or were being implemented.  There was a strong international framework to counter the threat, through the United Nations Global Counter‑Terrorism Strategy, General Assembly and Security Council resolutions, and 19 international counter‑terrorism conventions and many regional instruments.  The international effort to combat ISIL would be enhanced by the effective implementation of existing resolutions and legal counter‑terrorism instruments.  The international community needed to address the deficit in counter‑terrorism cooperation at the global, regional and national levels, as well as the underlying conditions that caused young men and women to be lured by violent extremism.

Statements

KELLEY A. ECKELS-CURRIE (United States) said that the maps of ISIL territory in Iraq and Syria told a powerful story.  In 2013 and 2014, ISIL had committed unspeakable human rights abuses in those countries.  In 2018, the maps told a different story:  Iraq had been liberated from ISIL.  The resolve for an enduring defeat of ISIL remained.  ISIL was adapting its tactics and had lost its so‑called State, but its foreign terrorist fighters would try to return to their homes and take their fights to new fronts.  The cells and affiliates of ISIL presented a grave threat to communities around the world.  A few weeks ago, ISIL claimed responsibility for a cowardly attack against the non‑governmental organization Save the Children in Afghanistan.  Member States must step up their efforts to crack down on sources of funding for ISIL, and had an obligation to freeze the assets of all terrorists on the ISIL/Da'esh and Al‑Qaida sanctions list.  They must take that obligation seriously.  They also needed to disrupt the flow of foreign terrorist fighters across borders.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said ISIL had suffered considerable military defeats in the Levant in the last six months and had lost its territorial hold, but the fight was not yet over.  Efforts must be continued to prevent the creation of safe havens in Libya, Afghanistan, West Africa and South‑East Asia.  With shifting flows of foreign terrorist fighters, the risks posed by potential returnees and fighters who decide to reach third countries must be pre‑empted.  Along with the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), appropriate legal responses must be designed.  On financing, little money was necessary to kill indiscriminately in the streets of Paris, New York, Bamako and Baghdad, and elsewhere, and considerable efforts had been undertaken to dry up terrorist revenue.  But terrorist groups had demonstrated resilience.  They had had access to options such as Internet crime, and arms and drugs smuggling.  Results had been achieved to freeze terrorist assets and yet all money transfer techniques were currently vulnerable.

STEPHEN HICKEY (United Kingdom), emphasizing that “we cannot afford to be complacent”, said efforts to defeat Da'esh must be redoubled.  He noted his Government’s collaboration with technology companies to block and promptly remove online terrorist content.  States must also strengthen their collective ability to deal with returning fighters, including through improved border security and an effective prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration strategy.  Particular attention should be given to women and children returnees.  He called on all States to fully implement the Global Aviation Security Plan set out last year by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) said Da'esh remained a latent threat, with the group changing its tactics.  The international community must respond with intelligence and strengthened cooperation.  There should be greater use of biometric data in addressing the problem of returning fighters, as well as greater cooperation to tackle terrorist funding networks.  Root causes must be addressed as well, he said, emphasizing that peace, security, development and human rights were mutually reinforcing and critical for an effective and comprehensive approach to terrorism.  He added that, based on Peru’s experience, greater participation of women and youth would be key.

LISE GREGOIRE VAN HAAREN (Netherlands) stressed that, though Raqqa had been liberated, “less territory does not necessarily mean more security”.  The threat from ISIL/Da'esh and its affiliates remained real in Yemen, Egypt, Mali and Afghanistan.  Expressing concern about the increasing numbers of returning and relocating foreign terrorist fighters and their families from Syria and Iraq to other conflict zones, she said efforts to prosecute and detain such fighters must be increased.  Spotlighting the obligation for States to collect airlines’ passenger name records, as enshrined in resolution 2396 (2017), she urged Member States to make that process a top priority and asked the United Nations to assist where needed.  She also urged the swift establishment of the terms of reference for the investigative team, as called for in resolution 2379 (2017) to support domestic efforts to hold ISIL/Da'esh fighters accountable for their actions, and reiterated her call on Iraq and Syria to become parties to the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute.  Member States should be provided with the tools needed to create an environment that balanced repressive and preventive counter‑terrorism measures, including through better efforts to understand the phenomenon’s root causes and involve local communities in addressing them.

TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) noted that the Secretary‑General’s report stated that military pressure had resulted in strategic setbacks for ISIL.  As a result, it had lost its focus on territory, and its revenues had fallen.  That was very much welcomed.  Nonetheless it was wise to not declare victory over terror.  Complacency should be avoided.  What was of serious concern was that ISIL and affiliated groups continued to inspire attacks outside the conflict zone.  They were able to use social media and communications tools in the dark web to coordinate attacks.  Returnees and relocated fighters moving from the conflict zone to other regions represented a threat to international peace and security.  Significant challenges therefore remained, which required proper implementation of United Nations resolutions, as well as cooperation between and among States.

OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) said the trend towards ISIL/Da'esh’s transformation from a group with territorial ambitions to a networked one with less control over its affiliates was clear.  At the same time, the organization remained locally embedded in several protracted conflicts, including in Afghanistan and Libya.  Adapting to those changes would be critical, he stressed, calling for the full implementation of all related Council resolutions such as 2396 (2017) on foreign terrorist fighters.  Drawing attention to the link between terrorism and conflict, he said counter‑terrorism efforts could not be viewed in isolation, but instead within the broader global context, including the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustaining Peace Agenda.  Emphasizing the need to manage the spread of violent extremism in prisons, he also echoed calls to hold perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of terrorism to account while fully respecting human rights and the rule of law.  Recalling that Sweden had, in 2017, sentenced an individual to prison for using social media to provoke the commission of a terrorist offense, he went on to underscore the need to pay special attention to terrorism’s gender dimension and to view it through the lens of the rights of the child.

KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) said returning foreign terrorist fighters, under instruction from their instigators in Syria and Afghanistan, were committing terrorist acts and creating satellite networks in Central Asian countries.  Meanwhile, those holding terrorist ideologies were actively seeking recruits and religious radicals to conduct heinous acts in their own States.  The deliberate attempt to strengthen ISIL/Da'esh cells outside the conflict zones — which operated with a certain degree of autonomy — made it difficult for Member States to identify them, he said, adding that extremists also continued to use the Internet, including social networks and dark web encryption technology, to disseminate, coordinate and conduct terrorist attacks and promote their narratives.  Calling for stricter, better coordinated control of the Internet to curb those activities, he added that ISIL/Da'esh continued to profit from the illegal sale of oil, and recommended further comprehensive measures to block channels for the illegal transport of hydrocarbons.  Describing Kazakhstan’s work with other regional States to implement the United Nations Counter‑Terrorism Strategy in Central Asia, he outlined progress made since the plan’s inception in such areas as cross‑border information‑sharing and the search and detention of persons involved in terrorist activities.

WU HAITAO (China) said the international community should take a unified, zero‑tolerance approach to terrorism, which posed a threat to all mankind.  Counter‑terrorism efforts should respect national sovereignty, United Nations principles and the leading role of the Organization and the Security Council.  He underscored the need to remove the breeding grounds of terrorism, with the international community helping Member States to eradicate poverty, among other things.  Despite terrorist setbacks in Iraq, Syria and the southern Philippines, returning fighters remained a serious threat, he said, calling for strengthened border controls, among other measures.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said the presence of ISIL staging grounds in northern Afghanistan was alarming.  The potential of international terrorist contingents infiltrating that area must not be underestimated.  While the volume of funds going into Da'esh coffers had dwindled, the group was honing its skills with modern technology in search of new sources of support, he said, adding that his Government had recently shared information in that regard.  Attention should also be paid to some Western companies that did not mind working with terrorists.  Everyone who helped ISIL, as well as ISIL fighters themselves, must be held accountable.  He noted the pardoning by the authorities of Syrian Kurdistan of some 400 former ISIL members, about 120 of whom had gone on to join the Syrian Democratic Forces.  The Secretary‑General’s next report should take into account the fact that Council resolutions 2253 (2015) and 2268 (2016) were not being fully implemented with regard to the arms embargo.

SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia) said that terrorist scenarios today transcended local and regional dimensions.  The threat of terrorism had become the largest, most complex and rapidly evolving challenge facing the international community, diverse in terms of its recruits.  More women and youth of different backgrounds and countries were joining ISIL, and the phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters was growing.  Terrorist groups had been able to disseminate their radical ideology through new information and communications technologies, the Internet and social media.  Some 40,000 foreign terrorist fighters had joined terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq.  The major factors attracting them appear to be linked to their socioeconomic situation.  They were promised material gain as well as the chance to assert their ideological positions.

BERNARD TANOH-BOUTCHOUE (Côte d'Ivoire), noting that the Secretary‑General’s report underscored the persistent terrorist threat, called upon the Security Council and all Member States to exercise vigilance and to implement all relevant Council resolutions on the matter.  With more than 30,000 foreign terrorist fighters from over 100 States, ISIL posed one of the greatest threats in recent years.  He applauded the reforms undertaken to restructure and improve the United Nations counter‑terrorism architecture.  He welcomed the December 2017 adoption of the resolution that renewed for a four‑year period the mandate of the Counter‑Terrorism Executive Directorate, which remained a linchpin of the counter‑terrorism machinery.  The fight against ISIL and its affiliates was a long‑term endeavour, and he underscored the importance for all Member States to work towards a common goal and to reinforce regional and international mechanisms for cooperation.

ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) said that tackling terrorism required a special approach.  It must be a global priority, he said, adding that it was encouraging to see international collaboration be brought to bear on ISIL and other groups, including Boko Haram and Al‑Shabaab.  He emphasized that many Member States lacked such tools as biometric technology to counter the variety of threats still posed by terrorists and associated groups.  Training and technological transfers were important in that regard.  Recalling that his country had only recently neutralized a terrorist attack with help from Cameroon, he said it was essential for the Council to keep working with the African Union Peace and Security Council on the issue and to adopt policies which promoted conflict prevention.

JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) said capacity‑building should be given the highest priority in this year’s global counter‑terrorism strategy.  Terrorists were developing new financing methods, such as anonymous fundraising, while using the dark web to communicate, coordinate and facilitate attacks.  It was critical to understand changing methods and trends in order to foresee potential terrorist acts, she said, emphasizing also the need for strengthened cooperation between the United Nations, regional and subregional organs and between States.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), Council President for February, said Member States’ counter‑terrorism efforts must be redoubled through dialogue, the sharing of information and experiences, and implementation of relevant Council resolutions.  Noting that Da'esh was adapting to new circumstances despite seeing its territory dwindle, he said terrorism remained a threat to international peace and security.  No terrorist attack was justified, regardless of the ethnicity or religion of the target, he said, adding that the role of women and youth in countering terrorism and violent extremism must be scaled up.

For information media. Not an official record.