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Jeddah – Yasmine El Tohamy – NEW YORK: The terrorism threat has evolved and spread in the 20 years since the 9/11 attacks, causing “unspeakable human suffering and loss,” according to Vladimir Voronkov, under-secretary-general of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism.
Al-Qaeda has proven to be resilient despite the loss of many of its leaders, he said. It has “pioneered a dangerous transnational model of regional franchises exploiting local fragilities and conflicts.”
Meanwhile new groups have emerged in the past two decades, Voronkov added, including Daesh. Though defeated in Iraq and Syria, he said, the group is using social media to recruit and radicalize followers around the globe and, as it seeks to rebuild and re-establish itself, it continues to carry out attacks.
Voronkov was speaking on Tuesday at a ministerial meeting of the UN Security Council marking the 20th anniversary this year of Resolution 1373, which was unanimously adopted on Sept. 28, 2001 in response to the 9/11 attacks. Considered a watershed in the international fight against terrorism, it includes a number of counterterrorism measures.
The council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee was established at the same time to monitor implementation of the resolution and enhance the institutional capacity of member states to prevent and counter threats by criminalizing terrorist activity, bringing terrorists to justice and denying them safe havens and financial support.
Voronkov urged the ministers, many of whom have witnessed terrorist attacks in their own countries, to work to ensure Daesh is held accountable for its crimes.
He also called on them to repatriate the thousands of their citizens, mostly women and children, who remain in limbo as a result of their prior connections with the terror group.
About 70,000 women and children associated with Daesh are being held in camps in Northern Syria. Of those, about 13,000 are from countries other than Syria or Iraq. The camps suffer from severe overcrowding and high rates of child mortality, but many nations refuse to accept the return of their citizens who are held there.
Richard Mills, the US deputy ambassador to the UN, said that repatriating these foreign nationals would not only “prevent fighters from going back to battle, but also, for humanitarian reasons, the situation in those camps is untenable.”
He added that the US has so far repatriated 12 teenagers and 16 adults, six of whom face criminal charges.
Tarek Ladeb, permanent representative to the UN for Tunisia, which holds the presidency of the Security Council this month, highlighted Daesh’s “considerable financial capacities, their use of sophisticated methods for recruitment, financing and planning, and their ability to adapt to national and international counterterrorism mechanisms.”
He added that the group’s activities cause ongoing conflicts to escalate, making them more violent, complex and difficult to resolve. He also talked about more-recent trends in global terrorism, including the mobilization of so-called “sleeper cells” or “lone wolves,” the growing links between terrorism and transnational organized crime, and the emergence of ethnically or racially motivated terrorism.
Michele Coninsx, the UN’s assistant secretary-general and executive director of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, also highlighted “the proliferation of extreme right-wing (or racially and ethnically motivated) terrorism” which, she said, is “also a cause of increasing concern.”
To face these challenges, Ladeb called for a holistic approach in which civil-society groups, the private sector, women and young people all have a say, and urged states to balance their counter-terrorism measures with a commitment to the principles of international human-rights laws.
“(Terrorism) cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilization or ethnic group,” he added.
Voronkov said that terrorists adapt quickly and are “keen to exploit cyberspace and new technologies, linkages with organized crime, as well as regulatory, human and technical gaps in national capacities. Their tactics are appealing to new groups across the ideological spectrum, including racially, ethnically and politically motivated violent extremist groups.
“The COVID-19 crisis has magnified these trends, just as it has been a stress test for international cooperation and solidarity.”
He called for enhanced international cooperation in counterterrorism efforts, given that “even better-equipped states are challenged to keep pace with evolving and emerging threats, both offline and online.”
Voronkov also stressed the need to “look beyond terrorism as a tactic” and address the underlying factors that cause it to spread, while also continuing with efforts to make progress on “the interlinked peace and security, sustainable development, and human-rights agendas.”
“It is time for the international community to walk the talk,” said Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, India’s minister of external affairs. He presented an eight-point action plan as he called on members to summon the political will to address terrorism in a spirit of transparency and accountability, and to reject double standards.
“Terrorists are terrorists, and those who cover up for them are just as culpable,” he added.
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