Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 21 September 2020

UN: ISIS mounting increasingly bold attacks in Iraq and Syria

Experts said that the militant group is also exploiting weaknesses in security in the two countries

The US State Department is seeking information on the location of ISIS’s media chief and is offering a bounty of $3 million. AP
The US State Department is seeking information on the location of ISIS’s media chief and is offering a bounty of $3 million. AP

ISIS is mounting increasingly bold attacks in Syria and Iraq and planning to free its fighters in detention facilities.

UN experts told the UN Security Council in a report that the militant group was also exploiting weaknesses in security in the two countries.

The experts, who are monitoring sanctions against ISIS and Al Qaeda, said it was unclear whether new ISIS leader, Abu Ibrahim Al Qurayshi, could effectively lead the extremist group’s diverse and far-flung supporters and affiliates.

But the panel said unidentified UN member nations had made a provisional assessment that the strategic direction of the extremist group remained unchanged when it comes to administration, propaganda and recruitment.

They also said the group's command and control between its “core in the conflict zone and affiliates abroad will be maintained".

Al Qurayshi’s predecessor, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, was killed in a US raid last October in Syria’s Idlib province.

The experts said the issue of foreigners who came to fight for the ISIS and were part of its so-called “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq “remains acute”.

Member states assessed that between one half and two thirds of the more than 40,000 who joined the “caliphate” are still alive, they said in the report circulated Friday.

The panel said the reduction in the number of US troops in Syria had raised concerns about the ability of security forces in the country’s north-east “to maintain adequate control over a restive population of detained ISIS fighters, as well as family members, numbering more than 100,000”.

“Many dependents remain equally ideologically committed and their fate is a major concern for the international community,” the experts said.

“Some 2,000 foreign terrorist fighters remain in detention in the area.”

While some countries believe the best way to address the issue is to repatriate ISIS members, others are reluctant to accept returnees, the panel said.

The issue “is expected to aggravate the global threat posed by ISIS, and possibly Al Qaeda for years to come.”

The experts said Idlib province, the last rebel stronghold where Syrian forces launched an offensive in December, remains dominated by groups affiliated with Al Qaeda but also hosts relocated ISIS fighters and their families.

Parts of Iraq, especially areas in Anbar province near the Syrian border, “also represent a permissive security environment for the movement of ISIS fighters,” the panel said.

Beyond Syria and Iraq, the experts said UN member nations are most concerned about the conflict in Afghanistan, which by some measures suffers “the heaviest toll from terrorism of any country in the world”.

Al Qaeda and foreign fighters aligned with it, under protection of the Taliban, “pose a long-term global threat,” the panel said.

ISIS extremists suffered heavy losses and were largely expelled from their Afghan stronghold in Nangarhar province in November 2019, but the panel said ISIS “has proved resilient in the past and is still assessed to pose a serious threat”.

The experts said threats from Al Qaeda and ISIS affiliates also persist in parts of Africa and south-east Asia.

They called ISIS West Africa Province in the Lake Chad Basin the extremist group’s most successful affiliate in the last six months of 2019 for its “high tempo of attacks” and raids on security forces in Niger, which garnered significant arms, military materiel and other supplies.

It also cited the steady pace of attacks on security forces and foreign targets by Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabab, which is based in Somalia.

ISIS affiliates are also active in the Philippines, where the panel said fighters from Indonesia and Malaysia contribute to insurgent attacks, as well as in their own countries.

The experts also stressed that “Al Qaeda remains resilient and increasingly threatening,” saying its affiliates “are stronger than ISIS in many conflict zones", especially in sub-Saharan Africa, Somalia, Yemen and north-west Syria.

Updated: February 4, 2020 11:05 AM

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