by WorldTribune Staff, August 14, 2018
As many as 30,000 jihadists make up a “covert version” of the Islamic State (ISIS) terror organization in Syria and Iraq, according to a UN report.
While a large number of ISIS fighters and commanders have been killed in battle, thousands of others and have left the immediate conflict zone and still remain in the two countries – some engaged militarily “and others hiding out in sympathetic communities and urban areas,” the report released on Aug. 14 said.
After being driven from most of its areas of control and seeing its physical “caliphate” destroyed, ISIS is transforming from a “proto-state” to a covert “terrorist” network, “a process that is most advanced in Iraq” because the terror organization still controls pockets in Syria, the report said.
The report added that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi “remains in authority” despite reports that he was injured.
The UN report added the ISIS’s “core” will survive in Syria and Iraq, with significant affiliated supporters in Afghanistan, Libya, Southeast Asia and West Africa.
The flow of foreign fighters to ISIS in Syria and Iraq has come to a halt, the report said, but “the reverse flow, although slower than expected, remains a serious challenge.”
The UN report also said that the reach of Al Qaida, which stretches from the Arabian Peninsula into West and East Africa, is a significant concern for global security.
Al Qaida’s global network also “continues to show resilience,” with its affiliates and allies much stronger than ISIS in some spots, including Somalia, Yemen, South Asia and Africa’s Sahel region, the report said.
Al Qaida’s leaders in Iran “have grown more prominent” and have been working with the extremist group’s top leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, “projecting his authority more effectively than he could previously” including on events in Syria, the report said.
While the rate of terrorist attacks has fallen in Europe, the UN report said some governments “assess that the underlying drivers of terrorism are all present and perhaps more acute than ever before.” This suggests that any reduction in attacks is likely to be temporary until ISIS recovers and reorganizes and Al Qaida “increases its international terrorist activity or other organizations emerge in the terrorist arena.”
The UN report broke down the threats posed by ISIS and Al Qaida by region:
- Arabian Peninsula: Al Qaida’s leaders recognize Yemen “as a venue for guerrilla-style attacks and a hub for regional operations.” Yemen’s lack of a strong central government “has provided a fertile environment for Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.” Its strength inside Yemen is estimated at between 6,000 and 7,000, compared with 250 to 500 ISIS members in the country.
- North Africa: ISIS “still has the capacity to launch significant attacks within Libya and across the border, reverting to asymmetric tactics and improvised explosive devises.” Estimates of ISIS members vary between 3,000 and 4,000, dispersed across Libya. Up to 1,000 fighters in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula have pledged allegiance to ISIS leader al-Baghdadi. Al Qaida is also continuing a resurgence in Libya.
- West Africa: An Al Qaida-affiliated coalition has increased attacks on French, U.S., UN and other international interests in the Sahel. Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb has urged attacks on French private companies. The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara is active mostly at the Mali-Niger border and has less of a footprint. “Member states assess that terrorists are taking advantage of territorial control and ethnic conflicts to radicalize populations.”
- East Africa: The al-Shabab terrorist group in Somalia, an Al Qaida affiliate, “remains the dominant terrorist group” in that country, with improvised explosive devices “its weapon of choice.” Despite sustained military action against al-Shabab, “the group has enhanced its capabilities as it retains its influence and appeal.” Member states said ISIS in Somalia “is fragile and operationally weak,” but “it still presents a threat” because the country remains a focus for possible future operations.
- Europe: During the first six months of 2018, “the threat in Europe remained high” but “the tempo of attacks and disrupted plots was lower than during the same period in 2017.” Much activity involved individuals with no prior security records or deemed low risk. ISIS used the media to urge sympathizers in Europe to conduct attacks in their home countries. Member states expressed concern that returnees could disseminate knowledge and skills related to making drones, explosive devices and car bombs.
- Central and South Asia: According to an unidentified UN member state, ISIS poses an immediate threat in the region but Al Qaida is the “intellectually stronger group” and poses a longer-term threat. Some leaders of the Al Qaida “core,” including al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden’s son, Hamza, are reported to be in Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas. ISIS continues to relocate some key operatives to Afghanistan. One unidentified government reported newly arrived ISIS fighters from Algeria, France, Russia, Tunisia and central Asian states.
- Southeast Asia: Despite last year’s heavy losses in the Philippines, ISIS affiliates in the country “are cash rich and growing in membership.” Intermediaries facilitated financial transfers from the ISIS “core” to Philippines affiliates and arranged bomb-making and firearms training for recruits from Indonesia at camps in the Philippines. Attacks in Indonesia by an ISIS-linked network using families as suicide bombers could become “a troubling precedent.”</li<