Islamic State still 'major threat' says Security Council report

Destruction in the Iraqi war-battered city of Mosul, evident after the city was liberated from ISIL forces in 2017. Picture: UNICEF/ Sparks.

The United Nations (UN) Security Council has issued its eigth report stating that the Islamic State is still a major threat to international peace and security.

The report was written by Head of UN Office of Counter-Terrorism Vladimir Voronkov in collaboration with a number of official agencies.

Voronkov said that "while ISIL has transformed into a covert network, including in Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic, it remains a threat as a global organisation with centralised leadership. This threat is increased by returning, relocating, or released foreign terrorist fighters."

Overview

ISIL is still being led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, but its senior leadership has been reduced to a dispersed group whose members "struggle to execute a number of essential tasks, without which the ISIL network could not survive."

Far fewer attacks associated with ISIL took place in 2018 than in 2017 across the globe, and successful internationally directed attacks have fallen dramatically from 2015–2016, when ISIL's external operational activity was at its height.

Damage to the ISIL brand may be a factor as to its reduced capacity for its military to be able to project an international threat, but it still remains the most ambitious international terrorist group, and the one most likely to conduct large scale and complex attacks in the near future.

Member States remain concerned at the continued explicit intent of ISIL leadership to generate attacks, and the haphazard nature of inspired attacks, which makes defending against them difficult.

Foreign terrorist fighters leaving the conflict zone, or prior returnees becoming active again on release from prison or for other reasons, will increase the threat, as could radicalized women and traumatized minors.

Member States have reported ISIL to have access of between $50m and $300m and the terrorist group is said to be encouraging the use of cryptocurrencies, though it has not been deemed a significant source of income as of yet. In November 2018, a woman pleaded guilty to purchasing $62,000 in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to fund ISIL.

Europe

The number of returnees to Europe was low and direct propaganda from ISIL decreased, but recycled material, online messaging and "implausible claims of responsibility for attacks" increased.

In the the western Balkans, approximately 1,000 foreign terrorist fighters have travelled to the conflict zone in Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic and 100 of those have been reported killed while 300 returned and the remainder are unaccounted for.

The foiled plan for a major terrorist attack in the Netherlands in September of last year "demonstrated that 'frustrated travellers' remain a problem."

Islamic State militants.
Islamic State militants.

Middle East

According to the report, the terrorist group has evolved into a covert network in Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic, where it priorities local operations, organising cells at provincial level to replicate key leadership functions.

"ISIL is reported still to control between 14,000 and 18,000 militants in Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic, including up to 3,000 foreign terrorist fighters.

"There are believed to be about 1,000 foreign terrorist fighters of various, sometimes undetermined, nationalities under arrest in Iraq.

"A growing number, currently nearly 1,000, plus more than 500 dependants, are detained in the northeast of the Syrian Arab Republic."

Iraq gets some of its reinforcement fighters from the Syrian Arab Republic and it is expected that the Syrian network will evolve to resemble that in Iraq, as "ISIL shows signs of wishing to stoke sectarian tension and pose as the standard-bearer for marginalized communities" in both countries.

An estimated 13,000 minors up to the age of 12 in Iraq are believed to lack established nationality because their papers are unavailable or their birth was never registered.

ISIL no longer have reliable access to oil in the Syrian Arab Republic and gets revenue by extorting oil cargos that is extracted by others.

Africa

In Nigeria, ISIL killed more than 700 troops and seized their equipment between July and December of 2018.

ISIL continues to pose a threat in Libya, where it frequently raids and holds inner-town police stations to secure arms.

There are approximately 30 ISIL-affiliated fighters in the mountainous regions of western Tunisia.

West Africa's gold-mining sector is potentially vulnerable to exploitation for financing terrorist activity.

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