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 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 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. On 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, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and individual members of the 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 controlled territory. 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 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. This has, according to the 2016 Monitoring Team, led to a decline in the group’s production of oil (by 30-50% since 2015) and in 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 machine 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 likely saw its recruitment pool reduced to individuals highly motivated to fight or 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 AQ counterpart.
Despite these difficulties, the ISIL core (in Syria and Iraq) has continued to send funds to affiliates worldwide through informal value transfer services and the transport of cash in small amounts. As a result, in 2017 and 2018 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 South-East Asia and motivated the group to reestablish its capabilities in Libya.
Al-Qaida and its regional affiliates have proven to be resilient and continue to pose a significant threat in various regions, especially Somalia and Yemen. Although it lost part of the captured territory in 2017, partly as a result of the increased US air and drone strikes attack against the group (increasing from 30 in 2016 to over 120 in 2017), AQAP has increasingly served as a communications hub for the whole group. In North and West Africa and South Asia Al-Qaida remains the dominant threat. The Al-Nusrah Front remains one of Al-Qaida’s largest and strongest affiliates globally. Much like ISIL, however, the group has been subject to intense military engagement in Pakistan and Syria, where many of its key figures were killed in 2017.
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 seeking entry or transit to participate in terrorist acts).
Sanctions Committee and Monitoring Team in place. Designation criteria were specified and targets designated (current and maximum number of designees during the episode – 259 individual designees, 82 entities). Enforcement authorities specified.
ISIL and associated organizations have been constrained in their control of territory, fundraising and recruiting, especially in Iraq and Syria, but 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 in the transnational movement of foreign fighters, antiquities and financial assets, the use of military force in the regions in which ISIL and other groups operate are 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 group’s (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.
Insufficient information available at present.