Despite serious military setbacks, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) may still have around 20,000 fighters and continues its dangerous transformation into a covert global network, while focusing on the activities of its regional offshoots, the United Nations Security Council heard.
These were among the key findings in a new United Nations report into the threats posed by ISIL presented to the UN Security Council by senior UN counter-terrorism officials.
The report details how UN member states and the UN system continue 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.
Briefing the Council, Vladimir Voronkov, Under-Secretary-General of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, said despite being militarily defeated in Iraq and in headlong retreat in Syria, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, otherwise known as ISIL, remains a serious and significant concern.
He was joined by Michèle Coninsx, Executive Director of the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED). They broke the report into three main areas, assuring the Council members “the global fight against ISIL and its affiliates continues”.
Voronkov said 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.
ISIL continues to exert a presence and influence across a wide spectrum of countries and regions: Indonesia was hit by a series of deadly suicide bombings in May, in Europe there is concern over commercially encrypted messages and radicalisation in prisons.
While 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 preparation of improvised explosive devices and weaponised drones, is a 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 UN member states continue to experience difficulties assessing risks posed and must develop tailored strategies for returning and relocation.
The evolution of ISIL, from a proto-State structure into a covert network, has driven the group’s finances underground, making them harder to detect. It still has the capacity to channel funds across borders, often via intermediate countries, to other destinations.
Several UN entities are working to counter the group, addressing critical areas including financing of terrorism, international judicial co-operation, prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration.
Coninsx said the UN supports member states with the most up-to-date technologies to secure borders, providing guidance for the effective use of these in compliance with international human rights law.
“We continue to forge new and innovative partnerships with the private sector, including in particular information and communications technologies,” she said, stressing that such engagement is essential, for example, to gathering digital evidence in terrorism cases.