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Counter-Terrorism Directorate Chief Concerned That Group Exploits Mobile Money Payments, Anonymity of Blockchain Technology
Despite the decline in the number of international terrorist attacks in 2018, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da'esh) continues to evolve into a global covert network, with access to hundreds of millions of dollars and the demonstrated ability to exploit new technologies, the top-ranking United Nations counter-terrorism officials told the Security Council today.
Vladimir Voronkov, Under-Secretary-General in the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, briefed the 15-member Council on the eighth Report of the Secretary-General on the threat posed by ISIL to international peace and security and on the range of the United Nations' efforts in support of Member States in countering the threat. He said the threat has been increased by the presence of returning, relocating or released foreign terrorist fighters.
With ISIL's centre of gravity in Iraq and Syria, where it is reported to control between 14,000 and 18,000 militants, the group remains intent on undermining any form of stabilization, he emphasized. Despite its loss of revenues, ISIL sustains its operations through accessible reserves or investment in businesses ranging from $50 million to $300 million. Recent ISIL losses should not lead to complacency at any level, he stressed.
He went on to outline efforts undertaken by the United Nations in countering the financing of terrorism, border control enforcement and countering terrorist narratives. Noting that ISIL continues to target Libya's police stations and oil facilities, he said approximately 1,000 foreign terrorist fighters are also reported to have travelled from the western Balkans to conflict zones in Iraq and Syria. ISIL is also reported to control training camps in Afghanistan and is increasingly recruiting women and youngsters in its South-East Asia terrorist operations.
In a second briefing, MichAle Coninsx, Executive Director of the Counter Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, cited with concern ISIL's use of mobile payment services in West Africa and its possible exploitation of the anonymity afforded by blockchain technology. On advancing justice and accountability, she emphasized the fundamental need to collect and preserve evidence, pointing out that Governments can also establish special investigative and prosecutorial entities to support criminal justice efforts, welcoming the establishment of the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da'esh/Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (UNITAD) in that context.
She went on to state that the Directorate continues its extensive work with the Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee in adopting the Addendum to the Madrid Guiding Principles in order to help Governments reduce the flow of foreign terrorist fighters. The Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate will also intensify efforts to develop, with Member States, comprehensive responses to terrorism, she said, noting that Governments in the Lake Chad Basin area are developing strategies to prosecute, rehabilitate and reintegrate persons associated with Boko Haram, with strategic support from the Directorate.
In the ensuing discussion, delegates noted that, despite progress in the fight against ISIL, countries must remain vigilant against the group's increasingly covert nature, continue working together to bring terrorists to justice, implement policies that support rehabilitation and reintegration, curb use of the Internet to spread terrorist propaganda used to radicalize and recruit, and include civil society, women and young people in all such processes.
The representative of the United States said that, while the global coalition has significantly degraded ISIL's finances, the group continues to evolve. Noting the steps taken by the Government of the United States to prevent travel by foreign terrorist fighters, he called upon the United Nations to continue to guide Member States on comprehensive prosecution of such fighters. We cannot relent in this fight, he stressed.
Peru's representative warned that the possibility of resurgence cannot be discounted, reiterating the importance of financial intelligence units and monitoring flows of cash, the vehicle through which terrorists mobilize resources. He stressed the need to deepen knowledge of the connections linking money laundering, trafficking in weapons and human beings, and the financing of terrorism.
The Russian Federation's representative described any economic relations with individuals or organizations involved in ISIL activities as a gross violation of relevant Security Council resolutions. He went on to cite kidnappings, as well as trade in agricultural products, human organs and cultural items, as ISIL's main sources of income. He also called attention to terrorist groups that pass themselves off as opposition movements in order to receive weapons.
Indonesia's delegate said that, with the defeat of ISIL/Da'esh in Syria, the group's propaganda, radicalization and recruitment have shifted to South-East Asia, where there is an alarming trend of recruiting and radicalizing women and children. A holistic approach to fighting terrorism is needed at every stage, he reiterated, stressing the importance of soft measures to steer people away from extremism, including by giving voice to moderation.
Also speaking today were representatives of Poland, China, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Kuwait, South Africa, CAte d'Ivoire, Belgium, Dominican Republic and Equatorial Guinea.
The meeting began at 10:04 a.m. and ended at 12:07 p.m.
VLADIMIR VORONKOV, Under-Secretary-General, United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, briefed Council members on the eighth Report of the Secretary-General on the threat posed by ISIL [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Da'esh] to international peace and security and on the range of the United Nations efforts in support of Member States in countering the threat. The report highlights the continuing threat of ISIL as a global organization with centralized leadership, despite the decline in the number of international attacks during 2018. He said the threat is increased by returning, relocating or released foreign terrorist fighters, adding that the report illustrates continuing United Nations support for national efforts to address it.
With its centre of gravity in Iraq and Syria, where it is reported to control between 14,000 and 18,000 militants, ISIL continues to evolve into a covert network with the intent to undermine any form of stabilization, he emphasized. Despite the more concealed or locally embedded activities of ISIL cells, its central leadership retains influence and maintains the intent to generate internationally directed attacks. This is exacerbated by the challenge of foreign terrorist fighters either leaving conflict zones or about to be released from prison. Radicalization in prison is a particular challenge in Europe and Iraq, he stressed.
In terms of ISIL's financial strength, he cited the report as noting that, despite loss of revenue, the group can sustain its operations through accessible reserves or investment in businesses, ranging from $50 million to $300 million. The group's residual threat in Iraq is reported to emanate both from local remnants of the group and from fighters crossing the border from Syria. In Africa, the report highlights the threat that ISIL poses in Libya, where it has targeted police stations and oil facilities. In Europe, approximately 1,000 foreign terrorist fighters are reported to have travelled from the western Balkans to conflict zones in Iraq and Syria, he said, adding that ISIL is also reported to control some training camps in Afghanistan. The report also cites the increasing role of women and young people in terrorist operations in South-East Asia.
He said the report also outlines the work undertaken by relevant United Nations agencies and offices, he said, including the Office of Counter-Terrorism, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in countering the financing of terrorism, border enforcement and countering terrorist narratives. The Secretary-General has encouraged the Office of Counter-Terrorism to provide a forum in which expertise can be shared, he said, underlining the particular importance of that aspect in addressing the flow of foreign terrorist fighters, including returnees. The Office is working to implement various counter-terrorism instruments and organizing thematic regional events on countering and preventing terrorism, he said, stressing: Recent ISIL losses should not lead to complacency at any level.
MICHA�LE CONINSX, Executive Director, Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, said that, despite the dwindling control of ISIL over territories that once provided it with unprecedented resources and a base for launching attacks, complex challenges remain. The dramatic change in the group's circumstances has driven it into a covert, more locally focused network in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. ISIL has nonetheless retained its global networks and is today one of the international terrorist groups most likely to carry out a large scale attack, she said, adding that its plans to fuel sectarian tensions are an ongoing concern.
Highlighting three challenges, she said the destructive legacy of ISIL/Da'esh in Iraq and Syria is manifested in the millions of displaced persons living in dire conditions inside camps. Rebuilding structures and restoring and reconciling communities � including through a comprehensive criminal justice system � is a long-term investment that can only succeed through the continued involvement of local, national, regional and international actors, she said. For States to advance justice and accountability, the collection, preservation and use of evidence is fundamental, she emphasized, adding that, where criminal justice officials are unable to operate in high-risk conditions, the military can play a critical role. Governments can also establish special investigative and prosecutorial bodies to support criminal justice efforts, she noted, welcoming the establishment of the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da'esh/Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (UNITAD) in that context.
Another challenge has been the increasing number of suspected terrorists, including returning and relocating foreign terrorist fighters and their family members in custody, she said. It is vital that States monitor, evaluate and review the effectiveness of their prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration programmes. Effective regulation, review and oversight of those strategies must include protection of human rights, with prosecutions taking rehabilitation and reintegration goals into consideration. Pointing out that terrorist groups have consistently demonstrated their ability to exploit new technologies and circumvent obstacles to their financial, technical and recruitment capabilities, she cited their use of mobile payment services in West Africa, and more broadly, concerns over their possible exploitation of the anonymity afforded by blockchain technology.
She went on to detail ISIL's use of improvised explosive devices, access to know-how and ability to obtain precursor materials, emphasizing that the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate � through a global initiative undertaken in partnership with UNODC and the International Association for Prosecutors � will continue to support State efforts by facilitating technical assistance and enhancing cooperation with the private sector. She also highlighted the Directorate's extensive work with the Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee in adopting the Addendum to the Madrid Guiding Principles to help Governments reduce the flow of foreign terrorist fighters. The Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate will also intensify efforts to develop, with Member States, comprehensive responses to terrorism, she said, noting that Governments in the Lake Chad Basin area are developing strategies to prosecute, rehabilitate and reintegrate persons associated with Boko Haram, with strategic support from the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate and technical expertise from UNODC.
JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) said the latest report demonstrates the progress made in the fight against ISIL, notably in Iraq, Syria and the Philippines. The global coalition has significantly degraded ISIL's finances while helping to clear neighbourhoods of mines and restoring basic services. The United States continues to provide humanitarian relief to the Syrian people, he said, noting that the United States is the largest provider of aid to that country. However, ISIL continues to evolve and plan its attacks, he said, adding that, to address this, the United States has made efforts to prevent the travel of foreign terrorist fighters. Calling upon the United Nations to continue to guide Member States on comprehensive prosecution of terrorist fighters, he said the Organization must continue to include civil society in such efforts while also integrating a gender perspective. We cannot relent in this fight, he stressed, pledging to continue to work with partners to degrade and ultimately eliminate ISIL.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) emphasized that the fight against ISIL cannot be considered to have ended, warning that the possibility of resurgence cannot be discounted. The return of foreign fighters poses a serious threat, he added, calling for adequate policies that support rehabilitation and reintegration. National criminal justice systems must play a key role in that process, particularly in order to prevent prisons becoming centres of radicalization and recruitment. The financing of terrorism is of concern, he said, reiterating the importance of financial intelligence units and the need to monitor cash, the vehicle through which terrorists mobilize resources. It is crucial to deepen knowledge of the connections linking money laundering, the trafficking in weapons and human beings, and the financing of terrorism, he said, stressing also the importance of prosecuting individuals involved in terrorist activities. Peru regrets the fact that no member of ISIL has been put on trial for sexual crimes, he added.
MARIUSZ LEWICKI (Poland) said that, although numbers from the report show that ISIL-controlled areas in Iraq and Syria have decreased, we must not lower our guard. Efforts to stop the creation and expansion of Da'esh and affiliated cells in Central and South-East Asia, Libya, Afghanistan and West Africa must continue, he emphasized, calling upon Member States to step up efforts to prevent and counter the financing of terrorism. Terrorists' sophisticated adaptation strategies are forcing the international community to adjust legal and operational frameworks, he said, underlining that need to enhance the transparency of financial flows, the sharing of information and ensure cooperation with the private sector. Member States should strengthen efforts to freeze the assets of all individuals and entities on the Da'esh and Al-Qaida Sanctions List, he said, adding that women and children associated with foreign terrorist fighters returning and relocating from conflict zones may require special assistance. He went on to encourage Member States to use the adopted Addendum to the Madrid Guiding Principles to ensure legal protections for children, and urged Member States to ensure that terrorist fighters are brought to justice.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) described any economic relations with individuals or organizations involved in ISIL activities as a gross violation of relevant Security Council resolutions, emphasizing that all such decisions have been made, and must be implemented, in good faith. The Middle East remains a stronghold of the ISIL/Da'esh leadership, which seeks to cooperate with brothers in arms. He welcomed the stabilization of the military and political situations in Iraq and Syria and stressed the importance of cutting off financing for terrorism. As part of the Coordination Centre in Baghdad, the Russian Federation has helped to normalize the situation in Iraq, he said. However, he expressed concern over the repatriation of foreign terrorist fighters working with ISIL/Da'esh, emphasizing that the Council should invite representatives of Member States suffering terrorism, notably Syria and Iraq to appear before it.
A wing of ISIL/Da'esh is destabilizing the situation in Afghanistan, he continued, adding that its practice of recruiting through information and communication technology poses an additional threat. ISIL/Da'esh activities in Afghanistan are fed by foreign terrorist fighters trained in Iraq and Syria, while the high number of suicide-bomber attacks demonstrates the group's considerable human resources. While its income from contraband fuel continues to fall, ISIL seized resources from Syria's Deir ez-Zor Province, he said, noting that key income sources for the largest terrorist groups have not changed significantly since the Secretary-General's previous report.
He went on to cite kidnappings, as well as trade in agricultural products, human organs and cultural items, as ISIL's main sources of income. They also fill their coffers from the sale of sulphuric acid and cement, as well as income from cryptocurrencies, Internet scams and fake medicines. In linking with organized crime, ISIL/Da'esh seeks to control drug trafficking channels and illicitly trade in iron, copper, gold and semi-precious stones illegally mined in Afghanistan, he said, noting that, despite repeated calls, the United Nations does not focus on cutting off financing from military-related goods. He also called attention to terrorist groups that pass themselves off as opposition movements in order to receive weapons. The Russian Federation supports efforts to criminalize illegal arms brokerage, better exchange of information, and monitoring of weapons, he said.
WU HAITAO (China) urged the global community to embrace the shared future for mankind approach to terrorism, responding collectively to threats by seeking consensus. All countries should adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards terrorism, aligning their efforts with the United Nations Charter and the principles of sovereignty and ownership, while complementing Council resolutions and the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. The global community should also seek to eliminate the causes of terrorism by helping States achieve socioeconomic development and settle hotspot issues through diplomatic means. He went on to stress that terrorism must not be associated with any one country or religion, adding that States must also take seriously the threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters and stop organizations from abusing the Internet. Support must be provided to help States implement the Madrid Principles, strengthen border management and share intelligence resources, he said, adding that greater cooperation is also needed to combat terrorism financing and the spread of extremist ideologies. The Counter Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate and the Counter-Terrorism Committee should be given full play in assessing terrorist threats and enhancing sanctions, he said. Emphasizing China's rejection of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, he said the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement has carried out attacks in his country and should be part of the counter-terrorism focus.
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) said ISIL/Da'esh is still the most significant threat to his country and remains a priority. It also remains a threat to global peace and security, continuing to inspire others to do great harm. He echoed the Russian Federation's representative in emphasizing the need to cut terrorists off from financing, stressing also that the return of foreign terrorist fighters and frustrated individuals with little centralized direction requires all States to work on prevention and tailor their efforts to the evolving threat. Noting that the United Kingdom has invited the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate to conduct an assessment of its national efforts, he said that a new counter-terrorism and border security bill aims to ensure that law enforcement and intelligence agencies have the tools they need to keep the country safe from terrorism. There are growing concerns over groups subscribing to extreme right-wing ideologies, he said, stressing that National Action's glorification of violence has absolutely no place in a Britain that works for everyone. The United Kingdom is also ramping up efforts to respond to drone threats, he added. Describing women as both victims of terrorism and key partners in preventing and responding to violence, he said they are notably on the front lines in building rehabilitation and reconciliation. The Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate must identify gaps in capacity, working with civil society, the private sector and others to take advantage of their respective expertise, he said, emphasizing that there must be no confusion over mandates.
FRANCOIS DELATTRE (France) said that, despite the fact that Da'esh has lost much of its territory, it still poses a major threat, having transformed into an underground network. Its propaganda continues to draw in a number of sympathizers, he noted, emphasizing: It is essential that the action of the international coalition against Da'esh continues. Impunity for ISIL's crimes is not an option, he said, reminding the Council of its political and moral responsibility. France welcomes the continuing work of the Council's monitoring team, which will produce evidence for the prosecution of terrorists who committed crimes in Iraq, he said. France prioritizes fighting the financing of terrorism, he said, emphasizing the desperate need to share intelligence, fight anonymous transactions and support vulnerable countries. Close coordination, including among the civil, military, intelligence and judicial sectors, is also essential, he said, also stressing the importance of providing support for children. France continues to curb use of the Internet to spread terrorist propaganda used to radicalize and recruit, he added.
JUERGEN SCHULZ (Germany) described the threat posed by ISIL/Da'esh as imminent and very substantial, while nevertheless emphasizing the need to address the adverse and unintended impacts of sanctions and counter-terrorism measures on the delivery humanitarian aid. As the situations in northern Iraq and in Syria demonstrate, vigilant efforts must be made to resolve conflicts before they descend into violence, he said, stressing: Terrorists need to be vigorously pursued and persecuted. A holistic approach is important for long-term success, he added. To address the challenges posed by returning foreign terrorist fighters, a broad approach involving criminal justice and police measures is essential, as are de-radicalization and reintegration efforts, as well as combating radicalization in prisons. Law enforcement and border control personnel must have the tools they need to do their jobs, notably electronically accessible terrorist watch lists, he said. Welcoming France's initiative to submit a draft resolution on combating terrorist financing, he expressed support for the Financial Action Task Force as the global standard setter for anti money laundering actions. Creating jobs and environments in which young people can support families is vital, as is ensuring that respect for human rights and the rule of law do not play second fiddle in the fight against terrorism, he said.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) said that the number and scale of terrorist attacks carried out by ISIL has recently declined, but the group continues to pose a real and direct threat. We have to take into account the great number of militants that are returning and relocating, he added. The most prominent threat is ISIL's ability to organize and finance its terrorist activities through financial assets estimated at between $50 million and $300 million, he said, adding that this requires international and national preventive measures such as comprehensive strategies to fight the financing of terrorism and terrorist narratives. He went on to stress the need to reassess the situation of relocating fighters, reaffirming the need to hold perpetrators accountable, including those who have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. At the international level, he continued, exchanging information, addressing the root causes of terrorism, preventing terrorism incitement, training law enforcement officers, taking care of young people and signing bilateral agreements are vital.
JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa) said the United Nations remains key in the coordination of international efforts against terrorism. South Africa has always supported a holistic approach to countering the threat, he added, emphasizing that terrorism should be addressed in its totality rather that in parts. Security measures alone will not successfully counter the threat, he noted, expressing support for a whole-of-Government and whole-of-society approach that also addresses the role of women and children, youth, civil society as well as the private sector and the wider community. The Madrid Principles and its Addendum are essential, he said, while underlining that anti-ISIL measures must be in compliance with obligations under international law. He expressed particular concern over terrorist groups in sub-Saharan in Africa.
GBOLIA� DESIRA� WULFRAN IPO (CAte d'Ivoire) said that Da'esh remains a threat to international peace and security with strong financing and several thousand combatants in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Expressing concern over its movements and the return of its members to their home countries, he stressed the need to address the role of prisons in radicalization. The fight against terrorism requires a holistic global approach, he continued, emphasizing the need for greater efforts to implement international commitments on monitoring and for criminal prosecution of terrorist acts, notably by updating legislation to ensure that criminal justice is effective. States should also improve coordination among the services tasked with detecting and addressing terrorism, and in curtailing the flow of foreign terrorist fighters, he emphasized, adding that it is also essential to reinforce air safety and sharing information on passenger lists . Joint efforts should focus on cutting off financing for Da'esh and its affiliates, while appropriate cooperation methods should be established for sharing information, ensuring cooperation between the public and private sectors and bolstering legislative frameworks. States must be supported in devising strategies for adapting to and fighting violent extremism, he stressed.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) said the Council has the wherewithal, through the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate and the monitoring team, to carry out an independent analysis of the threat posed by Da'esh, a group that continues to draw in recruits, including in Europe. Expressing concern over the return from Syria of foreign terrorist fighters and their families, he touched on the logistic and legal difficulties of finding and securing people in temporary camps and those at large. Belgium has taken a holistic approach to fighting terrorism at home, which also applies to foreign terrorist fighters returning to the country, he said. In parallel, it recognizes its international humanitarian obligations and respects human rights, including the rights of the child. Belgium is especially focused on rehabilitating the children of foreign terrorist fighters under 10 years of age and providing them with tailored assistance upon their return. Recalling that the Addendum to the Madrid Principles guides Member States in implementing resolution 2396 (2017), proposing a balanced approach to counter terrorism that stresses the importance of prevention, he said its implementation should be a priority. He went on to express support for France's proposed draft resolution on terrorist and for the efforts by the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism for Syria. However, while there is documentation of sexual violence committed by Da'esh, such crimes have not been prosecuted, he pointed out, stressing the need to reinforce deterrents, such as sanctions.
JOSA� MANUEL TRULLOLS (Dominican Republic) said the Council must continue to focus on the threat posed by ISIL/Da'esh because its transformation into a covert global network requires evolving policies evolve and deeper cooperation among States. Its ability to take advantage of areas under weak governance should spur reflection on the causes of radicalization and extremism, particularly among young people and women. The fact that 10 per cent of the 40,000 people travelling to join ISIL are minors, and that 20 per cent are women and girls, lays bare the need to focus on prevention, he said adding that the stories emerging from interviews with women fleeing ISIL demonstrate the degree to which coercion is used to force them to join. We must develop strategies for prosecution, reintegration and rehabilitation, especially for their dependents, he said. There must also be greater trust in the exchange of information among agencies, recognizing that the threat is common, grave and imminent. It is vital to ensure implementation of agreements and protocols supporting cooperation, with such efforts going hand in hand with training, he added.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) said that, with the defeat of ISIL/Da'esh in Syria, its propaganda, radicalization and recruitment has shifted to South-East Asia, where there is an alarming trend of recruiting and radicalizing women and children, especially those from educated and middle-class backgrounds. Also, a growing number of frustrated travellers unable to enter the battlefield in Syria are being re-directed by ISIL/Da'esh, with some becoming suicide bombers in efforts to attract the attention of the group's leaders, he noted. Terrorist planning and logistics, meanwhile, are shifting towards high-tech cyberactivities, including online fraud and fundraising through social media, he said. Given the nature of the challenge, we need to be not only decisive in our policies, but also innovative and practical in our approach, he said, emphasizing the need for the pace of cooperation to match a wily opponent that is quick to evolve. A holistic approach is needed at every stage, he reiterated, stressing the importance of cooperation in exchanging information, combating the financing of terrorism and improving border security. There is also need for soft measures to steer people away from extremism, including by giving voice to moderation as the best way to confront hatred. The causes of terrorism � unresolved conflict, poverty and injustice, among them � must be addressed, he stressed.
ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea), Council President for February, spoke in his national capacity, saying that terrorism remains one of the most serious problems of modern times. Cautioning that no single country can deal with the threat alone, he noted that, although the world suffered less from ISIL attacks in 2018, the group remains the world's most serious and dangerous. Equatorial Guinea has been following with deep concern the phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters, he said, emphasizing the importance of implementing the Addendum to the Madrid Guiding Principles. States must engage with vulnerable countries and help them implement the Guidelines, he added. Welcoming the work of the United Nations team investigating ISIL's crimes, he emphasized the need to defeat impunity. Pointing out that Da'esh is present in North Africa and in the Sahel, he underlined the need to identify and neutralize this threat, adding that efforts to prevent terrorist attacks must go hand in hand with investment in sustainable development.
Source: United Nations