Following a shift in the focus of the 1267/1989 Committee from a principal concern with the core of Al-Qaida to global counter-terrorism in a broader sense (the “global Al-Qaida movement”), the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the problem of the global recruitment and movement of foreign terrorist fighters became central to the 1267/1989 regime. On 24 September 2014, UNSCR 2178 significantly expanded the scope of the activities of the Committee to include measures against the flow of foreign terrorist fighters between states and armed conflicts worldwide.
The threat of foreign terrorist fighters is not new. Since at least the 1990s, Al-Qaida maintained a network of training camps that attracted and housed foreign fighters from various countries. Al-Shabaab in Somalia was also able to attract foreign fighters for its campaigns in the last decade, and Chechen and Central Asian commanders have played a key role in the military victories of both ISIL and the Al-Nusrah Front (ANF). Yet, between 2012 and 2015, there was a change in the scale of the movement and threat from foreign terrorist fighters. As of June 2015, it was estimated that over 25,000 foreign terrorist fighters from over 100 countries were active.
As a result, the Security Council decided in UNSCR 2178 (24 September 2014) that member states shall prevent and suppress the recruiting, organizing, transporting or equipping of individuals who travel to a State other than theirs of residence for the purposes of engaging in terrorism-related activities. Further, it authorized member-states to prevent the entry into or transit through their territories of any individuals about whom they may have credible information of these individuals seeking to participate in these activities.
In spite of these initiatives, ISIL and associated groups continued to expand their activities and global network. In September 2014, members of Jund al-Kiliafah in Algeria swore allegiance to Al Baghdadi and ISIL, and in October 2014 so did militants in Libya who captured the city of Derna. Since then, ISIL has expanded its presence in Libya through the cooptation of various local leaders and groups, including from the Shura Council of Islamic Youth and Ansar al-Sharia. In March 2015, Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and individual members of the Chechen Caucasus Emirate also swore allegiance to ISIL, effectively giving the group presence in Russia, Uzbekistan, Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon. The organization’s recruitment drive competed with that of Al-Qaida’s in both Yemen and Afghanistan.
During a significant portion of this episode, ISIL continued to thrive and its activities became the principal preoccupation of the 1267/1989 regime. The organization used alternative sources of value, such as looting, smuggling of historical and cultural heritage, kidnapping and ransom, and oil smuggling (in the case of Iraq, using the same networks through which Saddam Hussein’s regime evaded comprehensive sanctions in the 1990s). In response, UNSCR 2199 (12 February 2015) imposed a ban on the trade of Iraqi and Syrian cultural property and specified that general trade with ISIL, ANF, and other AQ-related individual and entities, especially of oil related products and other natural resources, constitutes support for terrorism and may lead to designations.
UNSCR 2253 (17 December 2015) formalized this shift of focus by renaming the Committee the 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh)/Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee. The resolution also clarified that transportation and lodging costs, ransom payment, donations, and funds or services for terrorist recruitment, training, or travel even in the absence of a link to a specific terrorist act are also subject to sanctions. It emphasized the threat posed by Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and decided that states should enhance vigilance over their nationals and individuals under their jurisdiction who engage with materials relevant to their production.
Military engagement with ISIL in Iraq and Syria increased from 2014, with Kurdish militias in the north and the Iraqi and Syrian armies, foreign special forces and local and regional armed groups fighting the group throughout the territory under their control. It was with the arrival of Russian forces in Syria and a US-led coalition that, together with a concerted effort on the part of the Iraqi military, major territorial losses for ISIL took place in 2015 and 2016. According to US officials, as of mid-2016, the group had lost 47% of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and 30-35% of its fighters. This loss of fighters was offset by the continued flow of foreign terrorist fighters into the Levant. It is estimated that, as of July 2016, ISIL commanded up to 30,000 fighters.
In part as a result of these developments, ISIL emphasized attacks outside of Syria and Iraq, either through individuals traveling (or returning) on their instructions or through others acting independently but under the inspiration of ISIL. The threat posed by the increasing number of foreign terrorist fighters returning to their countries of origin continues to increase and has become a concern for the Security Council. A 2016 Monitoring Team report estimated that between 10-30% of foreign terrorist fighters who had travelled to conflict zones returned, although some of them did so due to disillusion with ISIL, and not to conduct terrorist attacks.
In spite of the ongoing strategic competition between ISIL and Al-Qaida, the organizations have at times collaborated on a tactical level and both have taken advantage of the continuing political and security situations in Libya and Yemen to establish or broaden their presence in those countries and gain access to new sources of arms and funding. In 2015, ISIL in Libya continued to be seen as an outsider and was unable to extend its territorial presence significantly due to military setbacks. In Yemen, AQAP (one of the most effective AQ franchises) was able to establish control over a substantial amount of territory, but the country remained an attractive area for ISIL expansion as well. In West Africa, Boko Haram has struggled to maintain territory due to pressure from Nigerian forces. In Somalia, Al-Shabaab has maintained its allegiance to Al-Qaida, but detained and killed perceived ISIL sympathizers within its own ranks and continued to concentrate on a national and regional agenda (through attacks on AMISOM-contributing countries) as opposed to ISIL’s more global ambitions.
In 2016, ISIL’s financial situation deteriorated, largely due to airstrikes on oil-related infrastructure and actions taken by the Government of Iraq to decrease liquidity in the banking sector in areas controlled by the group. According to the 2016 Monitoring Team, this led to a decline in the group’s production of oil (by 30-50% since 2015) and salary cuts for its fighters. Although the group was able to obtain substantial income from taxation/extortion, its allocation of resources between governing controlled areas and funding its war effort became more difficult. The group has thus sought to decentralize, providing start-up capital to some of its affiliates to ensure continuity of the group in case of a military defeat in Iraq and Syria. The ANF, which announced its split from AQ in July 2016, continued to rely on external donations for funding.
In 2016 and 2017, under sustained military pressure and facing a decline in the inflow of foreign fighters, ISIL lost control over much of its territory (including all urban areas in Iraq and Syria), and shifted its strategy towards operating in more concealed networks. Between 2015 and 2018, the total revenue of ISIL fell by more than 90%. As a result of no longer being able to promote itself as a welcoming “State,” according to the Monitoring Team, ISIL saw its recruitment pool reduced to individuals highly motivated to fight and conduct terror attacks. While the group continues to operate in some recaptured cities in Iraq and Syria, the military defeat has led many existing fighters to join other groups or leave the region. This was the case also in Yemen, where a significant portion of ISIL fighters seem to have defected to Al-Qaida since 2016, further weakening the group vis-à-vis its counterpart.
Despite these difficulties, ISIL in Syria and Iraq continued to send funds to affiliates worldwide through informal value transfer services and the transport of cash in small amounts between 2016 and 2018. In that period, ISIL continued its transition into an “organization with a flat hierarchy, with cells and affiliates increasingly acting autonomously,” as described by the Monitoring Team. In this period, ISIL claimed several attacks in Europe, remained active in Afghanistan, and sustained an underground presence in several states in North Africa, and maintained links with Boko Haram and other organizations in West Africa. The fact that former foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria are now scattered around the world has increased the level of threats in regions such as South-East Asia and motivated the group to reestablish its capabilities in Libya.
According to the Monitoring Team, the fall of Baghuz (Syria), in March 2019 marked theend of the caliphate as a territorial unit able to function and systematically support affiliates abroad. Yet, ISIL remains resilient and dangerous as it transformed into a rural insurgency in Iraq and Syria, with sporadic operations in Baghdad and other large cities, that focuses on asymmetric warfare tactics targeting security forces, political actors, and other communities. Foreign terrorist fighter returnees and ISIL affiliates around the globe also continue to pose a significant threat, and major terrorist attacks (such as the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka) and more modest operations continued to take place with few operational connections with ISIL. The group's financial reserves as of July 2020 are assessed to be around $100 million, but because the group no longer has population under its control, it has difficulties in substantially increasing its revenue. The group continues to operate in Iraq and Syria with sufficient funding, however, raised primarily through extortion, kidnap for ransom, donations, and some commercial activity.
Al-Qaida and its affiliates have continued to pose a significant threat in various regions, especially Somalia and Yemen. Although it lost part of the captured territory in Yemen, partly as a result of the increased US air and drone strikes attack against the group , AQAP has increasingly served as a communications hub for the entire group. In North and West Africa and South Asia, Al-Qaida remains the dominant threat. In the Sahel and West Africa, fighters aligned with Al-Qaida and ISIL have collaborated to undermine vulnerable state authorities, although more broadly the relationship between the two groups continue to vary between competition and collaboration depending on the local strategic scenario. The group's historical stronghold in Afghanistan remains one of Al-Qaida’s largest and strongest affiliates globally, but it may be threatened in the future should the ongoing negotiations with the Taliban prove fruitful.
Both Al-Qaida and ISIL have been subject to intense military engagement, and many of their key leaders were killed between 2017 and 2020. Most notably, ISIL leader al-Baghdadi was killed following US raids in October 2019, Hamza bin Laden (Usama's son and en emerging leader) was declared dead in September 2019 (his death was likely much earlier), and the commanders of AQAP and AQIM were both killed in 2020. While both organizations have become accustomed to leadership change due to the frequent targeted assassinations directed at their commanders, these transitions can create power vacuums that affect the long term trajectory of the groups.
Between 2018 and 2020 there have been no substantive changes to the sanctions regime, although it continued to develop incrementally. UNSCR 2462 (28 March 2019) has consolidated the Council's previous resolutions on countering the financing of terrorism, and called for renewed measures to prevent and suppress terrorism financing.
Constrain the ISIL, Al-Qaida and Associates from expanding their territorial control and committing additional acts of terrorism.
Signal to the ISIL, Al-Qaida and Associates and the global community the unacceptability of acts of terrorism.
Continuation of ongoing asset freeze, arms imports embargo, and travel ban sanctions measures on ISIL, Al-Qaida and Associates.
Newly imposed ban on foreign terrorist recruiting, organizing, transporting, or equipping ban and (from February 2015) ban on trade in Iraqi and Syrian cultural property.
Specifies that trade in oil, oil products, modular refineries and related products, and other natural resources, as well as ransom payment and internet hosting to designated groups and individuals, also constitute sanctions violations.
Conditional travel ban on foreign terrorist fighters (if reasonable grounds to believe they are seeking entry or transit to participate in terrorist acts).
Current and maximum number of designees during the episode: 261 individuals and 89 entities.
UN sanctions can have some non-discriminating impact on the general population, since they include arms embargoes, diplomatic sanctions, and/or restrictions on the conduct of particular activities or the export of specific commodities.
Sanctions Committee and Monitoring Team in place. Designation criteria were specified and targets designated. Enforcement authorities specified.
Al-Qaida, ISIL, and associated organizations have been constrained in their control of territory, fundraising, and recruiting, especially in Iraq and Syria, but they have been able to adapt and continued to hold territory, commit acts of terrorism globally, and recruit foreign fighters.
While targeted sanctions and enhanced implementation measures remain central to the Security Council’s efforts to constrain ISIL, Al-Qaida and associates, and had an impact on the transnational movement of foreign fighters, antiquities and financial assets, the use of military force in the regions in which these groups operate is more significant to their level of constraint.
While the Security Council was able to communicate the threat posed by ISIL, Al-Qaida, and associated groups, they have continued to attract supporters, indicating that the groups’ (especially ISIL) stigmatization remains limited in some communities.
UN designations remain an important instrument to stigmatize individuals associated with global terrorism, but the terrorist groups’ own actions and the repercussions from them appear to play a more important role in their degree of stigmatization (in the case of ISIL, military victories early in the episode, and effective use of the media have attracted support in some communities, but stigmatized the group in others). A decline in ISIL’s capacity to attract recruits is most associated with their military defeat and territorial losses in Iraq and Syria.
Increase in corruption and criminality, increase in human rights violations, humanitarian consequences, strengthening instruments of the security apparatus of senders, harmful effects on neighboring states, increase in international regulatory capacity in different issue domains, increase in international enforcement capacity in different issue domains, significant administrative burden on implementing states, human rights implications for sending states.