UN says threat from Islamic State extremists remains high

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The threat posed by Islamic State extremists remains high and has increased in and around conflict zones. The group’s expansion is “particularly worrying” in Africa’s center, south, and Sahel regions, the U.N. counter-terrorism chief said Thursday.

Undersecretary-General Vladimir Voronkov told the U.N. Security Council that the group, also known by its Arabic acronym Daesh, continues to use the Internet, social media, video games, and gaming platforms “to extend the reach of its propaganda to radicalize and recruit new supporters.”

“Daesh’s use of new and emerging technologies also remains a key concern,” he said, pointing to its continuing use of drones for surveillance and reconnaissance as well as “virtual assets” to raise money.

Some 65,600 suspected Islamic State members and their families — both Syrians and foreign citizens — are still held in camps and prisons in northeastern Syria run by U.S.-allied Kurdish groups, according to a Human Rights Watch report released in December.

Voronkov said the pace of repatriations remains too slow “and children continue to bear the brunt of this catastrophe.” At the same time, he said, “foreign terrorist fighters” who joined the extremist group are not restricted to Iraq and Syria and “move between different theaters of conflict.”

Weixiong Chen, acting head of the Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee’s executive directorate, told members that the failure to repatriate foreign nationals from the camps provides Daesh “with ongoing opportunities to recruit from camps and prisons and facilitate radicalization to violence and the spread of terrorism.”

He said the threat from Daesh “presents a complex, evolving and enduring threat in both conflict and non-conflict zones.”

Chen pointed to Daesh’s continued exploitation of “local fragilities and inter-communal tensions”, particularly in Iraq, Syria, and parts of Africa, and its affiliates’ expansion notably in central, southern, and western Africa.

He also cited Daesh’s revenue generation and fundraising through a wide range of ways “including extortion, looting, smuggling, taxation, soliciting donations and kidnapping for ransom” as well as its use of social media and gaming platforms. 

The Islamic State’s dominant means of moving money continues to be unregistered informal cash transfer networks and mobile money services, he said.

Daesh’s access to conventional and improvised weapons, “including components of unmanned aircraft systems and information and communications technologies continue to contribute to the terrorist menace,” Chen said, pointing to its use of improvised, stolen, or illegally trafficked weapons to launch lethal attacks against a range of targets.

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