The threat to international peace and security from ISIS is increasing again and the terrorist group could be put back in a position to orchestrate attacks in different parts of the world in 2021, the UN chief for counter-terrorism warned the Security Council.
In a briefing to the Security Council on Wednesday, the Secretary General of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Office, Vladimir Voronkov, warned that the world must be ready to disrupt such new attacks.
“The threat to international peace and security posed by IS is growing again. It is vital that, despite the pressures and competing priorities posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, member states remain focused and united to counter this “He said in the 12th report of the Secretary General on the threat to international peace and security posed by ISIS (Daesh).
Mr Voronkov said while the dreaded terrorist group failed to develop a targeted strategy to exploit the pandemic, their efforts to regroup and revive their activities continued to gain momentum in the second half of 2020.
“Its core in Iraq and Syria and its affiliates in other conflict areas have continued to take advantage of the disruption caused by the virus to step up their operations with a series of high-profile attacks,” he said, adding that ISIS fighters kept doing so the ability to move and operate, even across unprotected borders.
As ISIS’s regional affiliates consolidate and gain autonomy and strength, they could offer the group new skills and options for conducting external operations, he said.
“Member States warn that in the course of 2021 ISIS may again be able to orchestrate attacks in different parts of the world,” Voronkov said, adding that ISIS’s focus remains on the resurgence in Iraq and in Syria, which the international community continues to grapple with, lies the legacy of the group’s so-called caliphate.
Mr Voronkov said some 10,000 ISIS fighters, including thousands of foreign terrorists, remain active in the region, most of them in Iraq, following a protracted insurrection.
“These sizable remains pose a major, long-term, global threat. They are organized in small cells that hide in desert and rural areas and move across the border between the two countries to carry out attacks,” he said.
The UN official underlined the need to end the “scourge of terrorism” by defeating ISIS in cyberspace, disrupting new attacks around the world and addressing the threat from its regional affiliates, particularly in Africa.
“We urgently need to solve the protracted problem of ISIS members – so that our failure does not allow the group to resurrect,” he said, assuring that the UN system will continue to “stand by the member states through the Global Compact-Terrorism Coordination Compact “how they face these challenges”.
According to a report, ISIS currently has an estimated 1,000-2,200 fighters in Afghanistan spread across multiple provinces and is expected to continue targeting Kabul and the provincial capitals in future attacks.
Shihab al-Muhajir, who was named the group’s new chair in June 2020, is reportedly leading ISIS operations in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and countries in Central Asia. He is said to have previously been associated with the Haqqani network and to have maintained family relationships with the Haqqani network.
Regarding Asia, the UN official said the ISIS subsidiary in Afghanistan still has between 1,000 and 2,200 fighters in several provinces.
“Despite deteriorating military capabilities, it has continued to exploit difficulties in the Afghan peace process and prompted a series of high-profile attacks,” he said.
ISIS also remains resilient in Southeast Asia with a number of factions. The involvement of women in suicide bombings continued and two such attacks occurred in the Philippines in August 2020.
Voronkov noted that 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of Resolution 1373, adopted by the Security Council on counter-terrorism in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in the United States, and urged member states to once again opt for “multilateral” under the auspices of the United Nations Action against terrorism “.
Michele Coninsx, Executive Director of the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTED), updated the Secretary-General’s 12th Strategic Report as well as the UN’s work in combating IS during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She pointed to the current “volatile and complex” security environment highlighted by “generational challenges” from terrorist groups.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is the most pressing challenge,” Ms. Coninsx said, noting that it has accelerated many underlying issues that create various threats and “puts us in a precarious position.”
Among other things, it has diverted attention and resources from combating the spread of violence and extremism by terrorist groups and creating barriers for member states to return their nationals from Syria and Iraq, Coninsx said.
The United Nations remains “deeply concerned about the dire situation” faced mainly by women and children in camps with no access to medicine, hygiene or shelter, exacerbated by the pandemic restrictions on humanitarian aid “, she said.