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As West Ends ‘War on Terror’, Jihadists Fill Void, UN Warns

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.

UN observers cite Somalia, which is in turmoil and receives less international military support than before. They warn that al-Shabaab could fill the void as “strategic support” for Somali government forces wanes. The threat the group poses further is underscored by a recent US indictment against an alleged Kenyan agent who “led by senior al-Shabaab leaders, obtained pilot training in the Philippines in an attempt to hijack a commercial plane and crash it into a building in the United States. “
As West Ends ‘War on Terror’, Jihadists Fill Void, UN Warns

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.

In recent years, much of West Africa and the Sahel has been embroiled in jihadist violence. Last month, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari admitted that the country was still grappling with a serious insurgency despite the setbacks suffered by Boko Haram, whose leader Abubakar Shekau is believed to have died in an attack by the regional affiliate of the Islamic State (ISWAP) in May.

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.

As West Ends ‘War on Terror’, Jihadists Fill Void, UN Warns
The human toll of these insurgencies is staggering. In June, the United Nations Development Program estimated that the conflict between Nigeria and Islamist insurgencies until the end of 2020 had claimed nearly 350,000 deaths, including 314,000 from indirect causes such as displacement and violence. poverty.

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.

On the other side of Africa, part of northern Mozambique is out of government control. In March, ISIS’s local affiliate briefly occupied the city of Palma – a critical hub in the country’s drive to develop its natural gas potential. The group has raised between $ 1 million and $ 2 million in looting from local banks, according to the UN report, and is well positioned for future raids in the region.

A persistent threat in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan

The threat from ISIS is far from over in Iraq and Syria, with the group funded by reserves estimated at $ 25 million to $ 50 million. ISIS has “somewhat reasserted itself in Iraq” this year in the face of “constant pressure against terrorism,” the report said. This week alone, ISIS claimed responsibility for a bombing in Baghdad that left at least 30 people dead. UN observers claim that according to member states, ISIS still has “the intention and the capacity to support a long-term insurgency in the Syrian desert” that borders Iraq.

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”.

As West Ends ‘War on Terror’, Jihadists Fill Void, UN Warns

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.

Al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri “considered by member states to be alive but ill,” UN report says, not sure where next group leader would be based . Member states report that al Zawahiri’s “likely successor” is veteran Egyptian terrorist Saif al Adel, who “is currently in the Islamic Republic of Iran”.

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.


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