Despite Iraq, Syria Losses, Under-Secretary-General Warns Group Gaining Ground in East Africa, Afghanistan, South-East Asia
While Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) was being hobbled by lost territory and shrinking financial resources, collective efforts must be intensified to finally put an end to the terrorist group’s attacks in the region and beyond and to eradicate its deadly propaganda online, speakers told the Security Council today.
Presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report on the threat posed by ISIL to international peace and security and the range of United Nations efforts in support of Member States in countering the threat, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, described recent developments, demonstrating how the terrorist group had been weakened financially and pushed out of areas in Iraq and Syria.
Indeed, Member States were making progress, he said, including by adopting legal frameworks to address financing and foreign fighter threats. In addition, States, the United Nations and international, regional and subregional organizations had continued to strengthen existing tools while developing new ones. He also reminded the Council that the Secretary-General had recommended the establishment of a new office of counter-terrorism, which was currently being considered by the General Assembly.
But, more must be done, he said, as ISIL persisted in making inroads in regions around the world, with affiliates emerging in East Africa, Afghanistan and South-East Asia. Further, monthly financing from the sale of hydrocarbons and extortion still amounted to tens of millions of dollars and ISIL’s online presence continued to inspire attacks worldwide, he said, highlighting the report’s focus on the need to further choke financing, tackle the courage of foreign terrorist fighters and battle the group’s Internet presence.
When the floor opened for discussion, speakers pointed to a range of ways the Council had aimed at doing that, including through resolution 2253 (2015), which expanded the Al-Qaida sanctions framework to include a focus on ISIL. Some speakers, including those from the United States and the Russian Federation, also explained how their efforts had helped to wrest territory from the terrorist group in Iraq and Syria.
Council members whose countries had been targeted by terrorist attacks shared their perspectives. The United Kingdom’s representative said such attacks had failed in weakening a common resolve to combat the scourge of terrorism. “We are defeating Da’esh on the ground,” he said, noting gains in Iraq and soon in Raqqa, Syria. “It is only a matter of time before Da’esh loses its capital.” Echoing that theme, France’s delegate stressed that those who sought to destroy freedom and democracy with barbarism would face a formidable battle, one in which the United Nations must play its role.
Others offered new ideas and perspectives, with many expressing support for a three-pronged approach targeting finances, foreign fighter flows and online propaganda, as outlined in the Secretary-General’s report.
Some highlighted specific obstacles to success in that regard. Egypt’s representative noted the challenge transit States faced in their inability to detain, prosecute and extradite suspected foreign terrorist fighters. To remedy that, he requested recommendations from the Secretariat regarding the actions the Council could take to fill that legal gap.
Raising concerns about the ongoing presence of terrorist groups in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia’s representative expressed a more general observation, saying the world had yet to agree on making the fight against terror a common top priority. “We are not there yet,” he said. “This is a case of not putting one’s money where one’s mouth is.”
During the meeting, delegates extended condolences to the people and Government of Iran in the wake of a terrorist attack in Tehran on 8 June.
Also delivering statements today were representatives of Sweden, Uruguay, Japan, Italy, Ukraine, China, Kazakhstan, Senegal and Bolivia.
The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 11:52 a.m.
JEFFREY FELTMAN, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, presented the latest 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/2017/467). The report focused on several issues, including ISIL financing, and emphasized that despite military pressure, the terrorist group continued to exist in Mosul and Raqqa, with a view to inspiring its supporters online to mount attacks outside conflict zones, including in Europe.
Noting a decrease in the flow of terrorist fighters and in the overall number of ISIL fighters, he said returnees and their relocation from conflict zones to other regions posed a considerable threat to international security. Turning to financial issues, he said steady income declines in the past 16 months continued, with funds stemming chiefly from sales of hydrocarbons and extortion, which still totalled tens of millions of dollars every month. ISIL’s presence persisted in Libya and West Africa, with affiliates emerging in East Africa, Afghanistan and South-East Asia.
However, efforts to counter those threats had been bolstered, he said, noting the Council’s adoption of related resolutions. Member States, the United Nations and international, regional and subregional organizations continued to strengthen existing tools while developing new ones. Member States were making progress in adopting legal frameworks to address financing and foreign fighter threats. The Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force and the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate had concluded the second iteration of the Council-mandated All-of-United Nations capacity-building implementation plan to stem the flow of foreign terrorist fights, including 50 projects by 13 entities. Providing updates on other similar efforts, he reminded the Council that the Secretary-General had recommended the establishment of a new office of counter-terrorism, which was currently being considered by the General Assembly.
MICHELE SISON (United States) said defeating ISIL was a priority, but there was a long road ahead. The United States-led coalition had liberated more than 4 million people in Iraq and Syria and ISIL had not retaken any territory. Highlighting lines of efforts, she said financing, foreign fighters and countering terrorist messaging must be prioritized. For its part, the United States had taken steps to address those three areas while supporting related efforts. Through diplomatic engagement and the implementation of Council resolutions, there had been significant progress. Concerned about rising numbers of foreign terrorist fighters, a challenge that required a truly international approach, she said all countries must enact legislation to strengthen their ability to process related crimes. Battling extremist online messages was also part of her country’s approach. She called on the United Nations to help Member States counter ISIL and prevent the next threat from emerging.
IRINA SCHOULGIN NYONI (Sweden) said that Stockholm had recently been the target of an attack, whose perpetrator was suspected to be either a sympathizer or member of ISIL. Indeed, the terrorist threat in Nordic countries was rising, particularly with regard to foreign terrorist fighters returning from conflict zones. To counter that threat, Sweden had introduced legislation specifically targeting foreign terrorist fighters and returnees. It had also increased inter-agency cooperation and taken steps to ensure that local actors were involved in the effort to prevent terrorism and violent extremism. Sweden was now making an assessment of each returnee, seeking to identify individuals who posed a risk. The Government was adopting mechanisms aimed at safeguarding individuals at risk of radicalization. She also stressed the importance of strengthening the fight against impunity for terrorist acts, including by holding perpetrators and sponsors accountable. All such measures must be carried out in full compliance with international law. It was essential to make every effort to cut off the supply of finance to terrorist organizations. She also noted the multiple roles played by women in relation to terrorism, including those of perpetrator, supporter, facilitator, victim and preventer.
CRISTINA CARRIÓN (Uruguay) said that given the continuing attacks around the world, current counter-terrorism efforts were not enough. Success depended on more and better cooperation to implement initiatives that were in line with international law. Technical and financial assistance must be provided to countries. Prevention initiatives, including those called for by Council resolutions, must be implemented. Channels for dialogue among Governments and non-State actors must advance those efforts to prevent and combat violent extremism.
EVGENY ZAGAYNOV (Russian Federation) said that given the situation on the ground, the Secretary-General’s strategic plans were especially relevant. ISIL continued to use terrorist attacks, including most recently in Iran. While recent Secretary-General’s reports had shown that terrorist financing was dwindling, more must be done to stiffen sanctions mechanisms to financially asphyxiate ISIL. Financing sources remained unchanged, with key sources being hydrocarbon trade and extortion. Oil sales had been halved to $10 million a month, due in part to the Russian Federation’s efforts in the counter-terrorism campaign in Syria. However, the report had failed to mention civilian casualties that had occurred during the liberation of Mosul. ISIL was also increasingly exploiting organ trafficking and migrant smuggling. Noting that terrorists had mastered online nuances, he pointed to related Council resolutions, including one that shaped a framework to combat that development. The threat of sleeper cells and other terrorist manifestations had affected many States.
MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) said terrorist attacks had failed in weakening a common resolve to combat the scourge of terrorism. “We are defeating Da’esh on the ground,” he said, noting gains in Iraq and soon in Raqqa, Syria. “It is only a matter of time before Da’esh loses its capital.” Helping people rebuild their lives was the first step, he said, highlighting details of liberated areas. As the threat was evolving, targeted efforts must choke their hold on the ground and online. Among such initiatives was an industry-led forum to remove hateful extremist content online. In addition, Da’esh must be held accountable and victims’ needs must be addressed. “Time is of the essence,” he said. “We must start gathering evidence before it is lost or destroyed on the battlefield.” In closing, he suggested that the Council adopt a resolution related to prosecuting Da’esh for its crimes.
YASUHISA KAWAMURA (Japan) said that while ISIL had experienced military setbacks, foreign terrorist fighters were returning to their countries of origin or relocating to other regions. The threat level had intensified in South-East Asia. Returnees to the region were a significant concern as they had the potential to increase the military capabilities of local terrorist networks. Those relocating from Iraq and Syria, who were not nationals of South-East Asian States, were another source of concern. Japan remained alarmed at ISIL’s evolving tactics, which included diversifying financial sources, disseminating propaganda through social media and exploiting encrypted applications. To respond to those tactics, it would be critical to implement counter-terrorism resolutions, including on aviation security, international judicial cooperation and protection of critical infrastructure. In addition to implementing those texts, Japan had recently enacted laws to prevent terrorists from using bitcoin and virtual currencies. It had also prohibited drones from flying over critical facilities, including nuclear plants. He also stressed the need for financial assistance and greater cooperation in the global response against terrorism.
INIGO LAMBERTINI (Italy) said terrorist threats were increasing and merely blocking sources of revenue was not enough. Promoting a counter-narrative to terrorism was crucial, he added, highlighting the important role of technical assistance and training programmes in affected countries. Combatting trafficking of human beings — a major source of terrorism financing — was of paramount importance. Sound security and cooperation were essential in addressing and countering the phenomenon that had sent thousands to Italy’s shores. Stabilization of liberated areas in Iraq together with reforms of essential public sectors was critical. As for Syria, only a political transition would root out ISIL. Counter-terrorism must remain a strategic priority, he said, expressing support for relevant Security Council resolutions. He also noted the risk of returning foreign terrorist fighters. The most affected countries must receive technical and legal assistance in a timely manner. “We cannot expect to build a clear and effective counter-narrative without a clear record of upholding human rights,” he said. The United Nations must continue to strengthen regional and international responses.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said efforts must continue to track down terrorists and prevent them from extending their stranglehold in other regions, with the battle to retake Raqqa being a critical challenge. Beyond military efforts, three areas should be the focus of more and improved initiatives, including financing terrorism, particularly as Da’esh was encountering difficulties in that regard. Their financing sources must be drained, including by tackling anonymity and bolstering cooperation. Foreign fighter flows must be tackled by adopting legislation which pre-empted the risk of potential returnees. That required a honing of detection tools and information-sharing, he said, noting France’s efforts in that regard. Pointing to the “hearts and minds” battle, he said the means of response to online deadly propaganda must be adapted accordingly. Civil society involvement was essential, he said, emphasizing that those who sought to destroy freedom and democracy with barbarism would face a formidable battle, one in which the United Nations must play its role.
TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) said ISIL continued to inspire attacks outside conflict zones, including in East Africa, where ISIL cells were appearing in Somalia, complicating the challenge of the terrorist threat posed by Al-Qaida-affiliate Al-Shabaab. ISIL had also established a foothold in North Africa and continued to be a threat to that region. Al-Qaida-affiliate Boko Haram was also present, as were organized criminal networks involved in trafficking, all of which were exacerbating the threat posed by ISIL. It was essential to support enhancement of the capacity of countries in the Lake Chad region to combat those threats. The situation in Afghanistan, Yemen and South-East Asia was worrying and must be addressed, targeting areas such as financing, online presence and foreign fighters. Those challenges should compel the United Nations and international, regional and subregional organizations to develop new tools to combat ISIL and their affiliates. The world had yet to agree on making the fight against terror a common top priority. “We are not there yet,” he said. “This is a case of not putting one’s money where one’s mouth is.” Mentioning Italy’s suggestion, he supported the meeting in June on efforts to prevent and combat terrorism in the Horn of Africa region and strengthen cooperation among partners.
VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) said that the recent terrorist attacks across the world revealed a new threat — to inspire fighters to carry out attacks in their own country on ISIL’s behalf. “These attacks are extremely hard to prevent,” he said, stressing the need to eliminate drivers of radicalization, develop counter-narratives and foster close contacts with local communities. Doing so would go a long way in helping to identify radicalized elements and take necessary steps to disrupt terrorist plots. Despite a significant drop in ISIL’s revenues, the smuggling of natural resources continued. He expressed concern about the lack of information on the effectiveness of neighbouring countries’ efforts to arrest vendors and identify buyers that contributed to financing terrorist activities. Stressing the growing need to ensure wider criminalization of foreign terrorist fighters, he said it was worrying that some States deported those fighters to their countries of origin without informing authorities. Information-sharing was critical. Abuse of asylum systems also continued to pose problems particularly at a time of mass migration.
WU HAITAO (China) said no country could respond to terrorism single-handedly. The international community must work together to identify trends and patterns and enhance its ability to respond to threats. The international community must uphold unified standards and adopt a zero-tolerance approach without exception. Countries concerned had the primary responsibility to fight terrorism. Terrorism must never be associated with any specific religion. The international community must also address regional hotspot issues and support relevant parties in resolving regional conflicts and uprooting the sources of terrorism. Terrorist fighters were spilling over or returning to their countries of origin, he continued, emphasizing the need for all countries to cooperate in order to adequately respond to the threat they posed. Noting that terrorists were raising funds in various ways, he called on the Security Council to enhance financial regulation and crack down on all forms of terrorist financing. It was crucial to suppress use of the internet to recruit terrorists and incite terrorism. The United Nations must play a coordinating role in that regard.
IHAB MOUSTAFA AWAD MOUSTAFA (Egypt) posed several questions: How did foreign terrorist fighters still manage to reach Syria? Which routes did they follow? How did they go from Syria and Iraq to other countries? Noting the challenge faced by transit States in their inability to detain, prosecute and extradite suspected foreign terrorist fighters, he requested recommendations from the Secretariat regarding the actions the Council could take to fill that legal gap. Noting that ISIL’s financial situation had declined over the past 16 months, he requested additional information on its trading in hydrocarbons. “To whom do they sell the petroleum? How is the petroleum transferred from Iraq and Syria to the buyers?” he asked. He also requested information about the related financial transactions. Qatar had paid up to $1 billion to a terrorist group in Iraq to release members of its royal family; that act was a violation of Security Council resolutions. Paying such a sum to a terrorist group would certainly have a negative impact on the ground, he added, asking for the Secretariat’s assessment regarding that matter. The incident should be subject to investigation, he said. He also called on the Council to be mindful of its use of certain language. As for references made to “Islamic extremism”, he said there was no such thing. Islam was a religion that did not involve extremism. There were individuals that used Islam as others used other religions to carry out terrorism and promote terrorist ideology.
BARLYBAY SADYKOV (Kazakhstan) said it was crucial to mobilize the United Nations and all relevant stakeholders, including non-governmental organizations, and international, regional and private banks to consolidate and exchange information on early warning signals, the movements of terrorists and financing of terrorism. It was equally important to take comprehensive steps to shut down the illegal transport of hydrocarbons, as well as the smuggling of artefacts and other valuables from Syria and Iraq. He also called for monitoring progress in implementing resolutions on the protection of critical infrastructure, destruction and trafficking of cultural heritage by terrorist groups, and on countering extremist narratives. It was vital to deter the increasing number of terrorist sympathizers, who continued to be lured by false propaganda utilizing sophisticated digital technologies and social media. Military action alone would be ineffective. Online communication with new and inspiring messages must be geared to younger audiences.
GORGUI CISS (Senegal) said significant progress had been achieved against ISIL particularly in Iraq, Syria and Libya. The contribution of the United Nations had been decisive. However, challenges posed by international terrorism remained immense. The attacks reflected the critical need to implement relevant Security Council resolutions and to step up efforts to counter international terrorism. The return of fighters posed a critical threat, he continued, calling for the urgent establishment of peace in countries and regions that had become safe-havens for terrorists. The situation in Libya, the Lake Chad Basin and Somalia remained unstable. Greater efforts were needed to counter terrorism financing, he said, welcoming the pledges of Africa’s intelligence service directors to bolster collaboration. It was important to ensure the protection of critical infrastructure from terrorists. He also called for an investigation on the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia), Council President for June, spoke in his national capacity, saying that many speakers today had agreed on how horrible recent attacks had been. Hundreds had lost their lives and many more had been injured. “We are facing a global threat that requires a global response,” he stressed. Noting some of the backsliding cited in the Secretary-General’s report, he expressed concern about ISIL’s use of propaganda to attract sympathizers. The finances which had been somewhat reduced had been compensated with ISIL’s tax on populations under its control. It had also engaged in the pillaging of archaeological sites, selling of women and trafficking of human beings to finance its terrorist attacks. He underscored the need for States to provide humanitarian assistance and adequate support to people fleeing those groups. Bolivia had supported the various opinions expressed during the meeting, particularly the need to stem ISIL’s financing. It was important, however, to recall that the structural causes of terrorism and the rapid rise of ISIL were due in part to interventionist policies of certain States.