The UN report suggests a consistent pattern. Wherever the pressure on jihadist terrorist groups is absent or negligible, they thrive. In Afghanistan, where the United States announces that it will complete its military withdrawal by August 31, the UN warns of a potential “further deterioration” of the security situation. In Somalia, Report Says US Army Withdrawal And Partial African Union Mission Withdrawal Left Somali Special Forces “In Difficulty In Containing” Al-Qaeda Affiliate Al-Shabaab .
In Mali, where France is ending its counterterrorism mission, the report indicates that terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda have consolidated their influence and “are increasingly claiming populated areas.” In Mozambique, according to the report, “the absence of significant counterterrorism measures” has turned ISIS’s affiliate in Central Africa into a “major threat”.
Jihadist terrorist attacks have declined in Europe and North America – but UN experts expect this to be temporary as terrorist violence has been “artificially suppressed by restrictions on travel, meeting, fundraising and identifying viable targets ”during the Covid-19 pandemic. At the same time, they believe the risk of online radicalization has increased during the closures.
“One of the things we highlight in the report that just came out is the possibility that easing lockdowns could mean that some pre-planned attacks can then take place,” Edmund Fitton-Brown, coordinator of the UN monitoring team. .
The report gives food for thought at a time when the United States and its allies – exhausted by the pandemic and eager to focus on economic recovery and stand up to China and Russia, virtually ended the war in China. 20 years on terror. ‘ As one leading analyst recently put it, “We may be done with the jihadists, but they are not done with us.”
Africa, new epicenter of global jihad
The report warns that Africa is now “the region most affected by terrorism” – with al-Qaeda and ISIS-aligned groups inflicting more casualties there than anywhere else. In many areas, these groups are gaining support, threatening more territory, getting better weapons, and raising more money.
Al-Shabaab is one of many terrorist affiliates to increase its use of drones for reconnaissance and has the ability to threaten low-flying planes in an area that relies on humanitarian flights to support vulnerable populations, according to the report. the UN.
According to UN observers, while Boko Haram is “significantly weakened”, ISWAP could strengthen in the Lake Chad region and try to expand its operations to the large Nigerian town of Maiduguri.
UN observers report that this year, terrorists affiliated with ISIS have already killed hundreds of civilians in a series of attacks in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. And al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in the Sahel are making a concerted push to the Atlantic coast – with Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Benin, Ghana and Togo among countries at risk.
A persistent threat in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan
Elsewhere in Syria, the report states that “groups aligned with [al Qaeda] continue to dominate the Idlib region ”, where terrorist fighters number more than 10,000. He says member states fear that jihadist fighters will leave this region for Afghanistan if the environment becomes more hospitable. .
As the Taliban progress rapidly throughout Afghanistan, there are widespread fears that the group will take control of the country and allow it to once again become a platform for international terrorism. According to the UN report, al-Qaeda is present in at least 15 Afghan provinces and operates “under the protection of the Taliban from the provinces of Kandahar, Helmand and Nimruz”.
In an interview with CNN this week, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said the group pledged “not to allow any individual, group or entity to use … Afghanistan against the United States. , its allies and other countries ”and declared that terrorists would“ have no place ”in an Afghanistan under Taliban domination.
But Fitton-Brown says the Taliban “did not sever their relations with al-Qaeda. They took no action against al-Qaeda that they could not easily and quickly reverse.”
The Taliban offensive across Afghanistan “does not give the international community much confidence that they are moving towards a genuine commitment to a negotiated stable and ultimately peaceful settlement in Afghanistan,” he said. declared.
There are also fears that ISIS has a strong foothold in Afghanistan, with a member state reporting that it currently has between 500 and 1,500 fighters. Although weakened in parts of eastern Afghanistan, UN experts warn ISIS regional affiliate “has moved to other provinces” and “has strengthened its positions in and around Kabul, where it carries out most of its attacks.
Lack of leadership
As for the leadership of these terrorist groups, it is a time of transition and uncertainty. The UN report notes that Amir Muhammad al-Mawla, who took over as head of ISIS over 18 months ago, “remains reluctant to communicate directly with his supporters.” He claims that “ISIS’s command and control over its provinces has relaxed”, referring to its international affiliates.
UN observers say that if he got the top job, it’s not clear Adel would go to Afghanistan. They add that “some member states highlight his history of life and exploitation in Africa and believe that he could choose to settle there”.
Concern for the next generation
Two decades after September 11, the ability of Al Qaeda and ISIS to threaten the West is currently weaker than it has been. But the UN report shows that the danger posed by international jihadist groups has metastasized and they are entrenched in under-governed areas just as Western powers are preoccupied with other issues.
“It is important not to lose sight of the fight against terrorism and especially important not to stop improving international cooperation against terrorism,” said Fitton-Brown.
Well over a generation ago, the international jihadist movement was energized by the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan. He is now celebrating the end of the US military presence – and likely anticipating a new influx of recruits to propel the next generation of jihad – in Afghanistan and far beyond.