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Over 10,000 Daesh fighters active in Iraq, Syria: UN

AP/new york
Filed on August 25, 2020 | Last updated on August 25, 2020 at 03.41 pm
Daesh, active, Syria
A girl stands in a line of women to receive aid at the Kurdish-run Al-Hol camp in the Al-Hasakeh governorate in northeastern Syria where families of the Daesh foreign fighters are held.

(AFP file)

UN counter-terrorism chief says the extremist group has regrouped and its activity has increased not only in conflict zones like Iraq and Syria but also in some regional affiliates

More than 10,000 Daesh fighters are estimated to remain active in Iraq and Syria two years after the militant group's defeat, and their attacks have significantly increased this year, the UN counter-terrorism chief said on Monday.

Vladimir Voronkov told the UN Security Council that Daesh fighters move freely "in small cells between the two countries."

He said the Daesh extremist group has regrouped and its activity has increased not only in conflict zones like Iraq and Syria but also in some regional affiliates.

"However, in non-conflict zones, the threat appears to have decreased in the short term," he said. "Measures to minimise the spread of Covid-19, such as lockdowns and restrictions on movement, seem to have reduced the risk of terrorist attacks in many countries."

Nonetheless, Voronkov said, "there is a continued trend of attacks by individuals inspired online and acting alone or in small groups, which could be fuelled by Daesh's opportunistic propaganda efforts during the Covid-19 crisis."

He said the Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the challenges of eliminating the threat of terrorism, pointing to actions by Daesh and other terrorist groups seeking "to exploit the far-reaching disruption and negative socioeconomic and political impacts of the pandemic."

But Voronkov said the pandemic's impact on Daesh recruitment and fundraising activities remains unclear, and there is no clear indication of a change in the extremist group's strategic direction under its leader, Abu Ibrahim Al Hashimi Al Quraishi.

Turning to Africa, Voronkov said the Daesh in West Africa Province "remains a major focus of Daesh global propaganda, and its total membership of approximately 3,500 makes it one of the largest of the remote 'provinces.'" He said it continues to reinforce links with the Daesh in the Greater Sahara, "which remains the most dangerous group in the tri-border area of Burkina Faso, Mali, and the Niger."

While Daesh only has "a few hundred fighters in Libya," he said, they have been exploiting ethnic tensions and represent "a potent threat capable of broader regional impact."

In Europe, Voronkov said, the main threat comes from "Internet-driven, homegrown terrorist radicalisation," citing three Daesh-inspired attacks in France and two in the United Kingdom. He also noted "acute concerns ... about radicalisation and failed rehabilitation in prisons, and the imminent release of dangerous inmates with a terrorism background or connections."

In Afghanistan, Voronkov said, Daesh's affiliate has conducted high-profile attacks in various parts of the country, including Kabul, and seeks to use Afghan territory "to spread its influence across the region" and to attract fighters who oppose the recent peace agreement between the US and the Taleban.

Elsewhere in Asia, Daesh claimed its first attack in the Maldives in April, he said, and attacks on security forces in southeast Asia occur regularly though government counter-terrorism operations have kept up pressure on the extremists.

Voronkov said the Covid-19 crisis has further complicated "the already dire and unsustainable situation" of thousands of people with suspected links to the Daesh who are stranded in camps in Syria and Iraq, especially women and children.

"Repatriation, prosecution, rehabilitation, and reintegration and the protection of the vulnerable have become ever more urgent," he said.

While some countries have repatriated their nationals, especially children, many have not.

Voronkov reiterated UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' call for all countries to implement international law and bring home all their stranded women, men and children.

"The global threat from Daesh is likely to increase if the international community fails to meet this challenge," the head of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism warned.

US Ambassador Kelly Craft said the United States shares the secretary-general's concern and has brought back American citizens and prosecuted them where appropriate.

Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, whose country is Syria's main ally, said the global terrorist threat from Daesh remains high, and its leadership is planning terrorist attacks in the border area between Syria and Iraq.

"At the same time, the terrorists do not intend to give up plans to revive the 'caliphate' in Iraq," he said. "Daesh continues to build up its combat potential and is seeking to expand the area and scope of terrorist attacks in the country."

Nebenzia said Daesh organisation and tactics suggest "that it has now fully transformed into a network structure with a high degree of autonomy of branches and 'sleeping cells' in various countries and regions of the world."

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