Let's Be Clear: Establishing a 'No-Fly Zone' Is an Act of War


The term is a euphemism that obscures the gravity of what its advocates are suggesting -- a U.S. air attack on Syria.



Kudos to Josh Rogin for breaking the news that "the White House has asked the Pentagon to draw up plans for a no-fly zone inside Syria." But wouldn't it be a more powerful story without the euphemism?

Relying on the term "no-fly-zone" is typical in journalism. But that is a mistake. It obscures the gravity of the news.

Here's how an alternative version of the story might look: "The White House has asked the Pentagon to draw up plans for bombing multiple targets inside Syria, constantly surveilling Syrian airspace alongside U.S. allies, and shooting down Syrian war planes and helicopters that try to fly around, perhaps for months."

The term "no-fly-zone" isn't analytically useless. It's just that folks using it as shorthand should make sure everyone reading understands that, as Daniel Larison put it right up in a headline, "Imposing a No-Fly-Zone in Syria Requires Starting a New War." That becomes clearer some paragraphs later in Rogin's article, when he discussed Senator John McCain's advocacy for a "no-fly-zone." "McCain said a realistic plan for a no-fly zone would include hundreds of planes, and would be most effective if it included destroying Syrian airplanes on runways, bombing those runways, and moving U.S. Patriot missile batteries in Turkey close to the border so they could protect airspace inside northern Syria," he wrote.

The article also quotes Robert Zarate, policy director at the hawkish Foreign Policy Initiative. His euphemisms of choice: "No doubt, the United States and its like-minded allies and partners are fully capable, without the use of ground troops, of obviating the Assad regime's degraded, fixed, and mobile air defenses and suppressing the regime's use of airpower."

Does anyone think he'd describe Syrian planes bombing a U.S. aircraft carrier as "obviating" our naval assets? The question before us is whether America should wage war in Syria by bombing its weapons, maintaining a presence in its airspace, and shooting at its pilots if they take off. On hearing the phrase "no-fly-zone," how many Americans would realize all that is involved?

I trust "start a war against Syria" would poll poorly.

That's why advocates of that course hide the consequences of what they propose behind a euphemism. If only there were a deliberative body that the Constitution charged with declaring war, so that it would be impossible to start any wars of choice without the voice of the people being heard.


Confused about the US response to ISIS in Syria? Look to the CIA's relationship with Saudi Arabia

BY Patrick Cockburn

In 1996 the CIA set up a special unit called Alec Station with the aim of targeting Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network. It was headed by Michael Scheuer who found the Saudis less than cooperative. “When we set up the unit in 1996 we asked the Saudis for some basic material on bin Laden, like his birth certificate, his financial records – obvious stuff,” recalled Mr Scheuer many years later. “We got nothing.”

The CIA unit pursuing bin Laden kept on requesting this mundane but necessary information about their target from the Saudis for the next three years but got no reply. “Finally in 1999, we get a message from the [CIA] station chief in Riyadh, a Mr John Brennan,” Mr Scheuer said in an interview published in Kill Chain: Drones and the Rise of High-Tech Assassins by my brother Andrew Cockburn. “He said we should stop sending these requests as it was ‘upsetting the Saudis’.”

The story is important because John Brennan has been director of the CIA since he replaced David Petraeus in 2013 and last week he was once again avoiding any upset to the Saudis by telling the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya television station that the 28 pages in the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry relating to Saudi Arabia that have never been released contain “no evidence to indicate that the Saudi government as an institution -- or as senior Saudi officials individually -- had supported the 9/11 attacks."

This is not the impression of others who have read the report and dodges the question of indirect Saudi support for or tolerance of al-Qaeda in the past. But the important point is that in the 20 years between 1996 and 2016, the CIA and British security and foreign policy agencies have consistently given priority to maintaining their partnership with powerful Sunni states such as Saudi Arabia, the Gulf monarchies, Turkey and Pakistan over the elimination of terrorist organisations such as al-Qaeda, al-Nusra, Isis and the Taliban.

This contradiction between what is required to destroy the Salafi-jihadi Sunni fundamentalist networks and the need to maintain the alliance with these Sunni states goes a long way to explain the failure of the vastly expensive “War on Terror”. Commentators focus their criticism on Saudi Arabia and with good reason, but it was Pakistan that was crucial to the rise of the Taliban and Turkey to that of the extreme Islamists in Syria.

Mr Brennan does not take responsibility for this calamitous failure but he did admit its extent in revealing evidence to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday. “Our efforts have not reduced the group’s terrorism capability,” he said. “The group would have to suffer even heavier losses of territory, manpower, and money for its terrorist capacity to decline significantly.”

Isis is certainly weaker than it once was at its apogee as its divided but numerous enemies press forward on multiple fronts in Iraq and Syria. Its call for “lone wolf” attacks by Isis militants in their own countries is because it is more difficult for them to pass to and fro across the Turkish border, which has been progressively sealed off by the advance of the Syrian Kurds backed by US air power. But Isis leaders are all too aware that an atrocity like the one committed in Orlando - as in Brussels in March, and Paris last November - propels their movement to the top of the news agenda for weeks at a time and, for all the obloquy they receive, augments their strength and acts as a recruiting tool.

Isis is transmuting into more of a terrorist movement using guerrilla tactics as the onslaught against the self-declared Caliphate grinds slowly forward. The slaughter of civilians abroad is designed to mask a real weakening of the de facto Isis state compared to a year ago when it was still capable of launching offensives that captured Ramadi and Palmyra. President Obama is much more realistic than his critics allow in his claim that his campaign against Isis is showing real gains. Unfortunately, the credibility of his administration in convincing people of this is undermined by past exaggerations about victories over Isis that were swiftly contradicted by events.

What makes the current wave of terrorism different is that it is backed by the resources of a de facto state which, even in its current battered condition, can mobilise money, expertise, equipment and communications. The possession of territory with its own well-organised administration makes a great difference to the punching power of Isis when it comes to either terrorism or war.

It is helped also by its enemies’ divisions, which are graphically on display at the moment in the battle for Aleppo where the CIA and the Pentagon pursue radically different policies. The Pentagon holds that its prime aim is to fight and defeat Isis, while the CIA maintains that Isis can be only be eliminated by first overthrowing President Bashar al-Assad and his regime. “The defeat of Assad is a necessary precondition to ultimately defeat [Isis],” a US intelligence official told Nancy Youssef of the Daily Beast. “As long as there is a failed leader in Damascus and a failed state in Syria, Isis will have a place to operate from.” This makes the dubious assumption that there would be less of a failed state in Damascus after Assad than there was before his fall.

Much the same argument is made by 51 US State Department diplomats in an internal memo calling for military strikes against Assad’s forces to compel him to abide by a ceasefire. It says that the Syrian government’s barrel bombing of civilians is the “root cause of the instability that continues to grip Syria and the broader region.” It calls for “a judicious use of stand-off and air weapons, which would undergird and drive a more focused and hard-nosed US diplomacy.” The mid-level diplomats, taking advantage of a State Department channel for officials to diverge from official policy without damaging their careers, say that at present Assad feels under no pressure to agree to a ceasefire, known as a “cessation of hostilities”, which excludes Isis and al-Nusra.

The diplomats’ demand for air strikes appears extraordinarily na├»ve and ill-considered since the last thing that Syria needs is yet more violence. Their protest avoids the problem that the Syrian armed opposition is dominated by Isis, al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham. It is understandable that the diplomats should denounce Assad for carrying out atrocities, but they should also accept that the only alternative to his rule is the Islamists. The US has found to its cost over the last few years that there is no moderate armed opposition fighting Assad which it can support aside from the Syrian Kurdish paramilitary army and some Arab units under Kurdish control.

The dissident US diplomats may genuinely believe that peace will be brought closer by adding a US-Syrian government war to the cat’s cradle of existing wars in Syria and Iraq. The CIA has a long dismal history since Afghanistan of being manipulated by jihadi groups and their Sunni government backers in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Before anybody talks of starting new conflicts, the priority should be the complete destruction of ISIS.


 A residential block hit by explosives in Aleppo

Some of the newly elected members of the Syrian Parliament

FULL SPEECH | President al-‪‎Assad‬: Our war on terrorism continues, we will liberate every inch of ‪Syria‬

7 June، 2016

Damascus, SANA – President Bashar al-Assad said that the Syrian people surprised the world with their unprecedented participation in the People’s Assembly elections, sending a clear message to the world that the greater the pressure gets, the more the Syrians commit to their sovereignty.

In a speech addressing the People’s Assembly of the 2nd legislative term on Tuesday, the President started with congratulating the Syrian people on the advent of the holy month of Ramadan, hoping that in next Ramadan Syria will have recovered.

His Excellency said that while this is not the first time he stands at the Assembly after a new parliament was elected, but this time is greatly different from the previous ones as these elections came amid great international and regional and political events and amid harsh internal circumstances that led some to expect the elections to fail or not be accomplished, or if accomplished, they would be boycotted completely by the citizens, or at best they would be met with indifference.

“But what happened was the opposite, as the Syrian people surprised the world once again with their wide participation in one of the important national and constitutional events,” President al-Assad said, adding “the unprecedented level of participation by voters to elect their representatives at the People’s Assembly was a clear message to the world that the greater the pressure gets, the stronger the Syrian people’s commitment to their independence becomes, and that the further others attempt to interfere in their affairs, they more they prove to be committed to the constitution as the defender of independence and the pillar of stability.

“This national stance was not represented by the level of participation only, but also by the unprecedented number of candidates, who also showed a high sense of patriotism and awareness.

“All of that is a big and important message to you, the representatives of this people, as this unprecedented participation, despite all the circumstances, challenges and dangers, places on you an extraordinary responsibility towards the citizens who entrusted their hopes in your hands to maintain and preserve them through hard, sincere, and honest work that should rise up to the gravity of the challenges imposed on Syria and up to this turnout and this trust the people gave you.”

President al-Assad noted that just as these elections were not ordinary and the level of participation was unprecedented, this Assembly also came different from the previous ones, as the voters who are used to electing representatives showed much responsibility and awareness and a high level of understanding of the changes in the situation and the value of sacrifices.

He pointed out that in addition to the people electing representatives of their social groups, they chose and voted for candidates who lived the suffering and are willing to give, adding “your Assembly this time, and for the first time, includes the injured who sacrificed a piece of their body so that the homeland can be complete, the martyr’s mother or father or sister whose children sacrificed their lives in order for Syria to persist, the doctor who kept the sublime character of the profession and was considerate of the people and their economic and living conditions and so treated the citizens for free, the artist who carried a gun and defended his land and honor.”

His Excellency noted that this time, the number of women, youths, and holders of higher university degrees is much greater than before.

President al-Assad said that the world is currently witnessing unusual conditions with the West seeking to preserve its grip on the world at any cost, resulting in international clashes than in turn created regional clashes between states that seek to preserve their sovereignty and independence and states that do others’ bidding, and this reflected on the region in general and on Syria in particular.

He elaborated by saying that these conflicts reflect on the political process in Geneva, with international, regional, and local sides, along with some who have Syrian nationalities but chose to become puppets of either the most backwards states in the world or states that dream of returning to the days of colonialism, adding “but facing those traitors are another group of patriotic Syrians that are entrusted with the sacrifices of the martyrs and the wounded, and who are endeavoring through political work to preserve their land, country, and its independent decision.”

The President said “It is no longer secret that the essence of the political process for the regional and international countries supporting terrorism has been, since the beginning and throughout the various initiatives, aimed at undermining the presence of any concept of the homeland through hitting its core, which is the constitution, and through continuous pressure to consider it null and stop it and freeze it under different names and terms, mainly the so-called transitional stage.

“And of course, through hitting the constitution, two main pillars of any state get hit: the first is the institutions, on top being the institution of the army that is the defender of the state and the guarantor of the people’s security, as they started focusing on that greatly since the start and during any talk about Syria’s future and institutions. The other pillar is the diverse national, pan-Arab, and religious identity of Syria, which they started to focus on when they realized that it was the underpinning of the homeland’s steadfastness at the beginning of the events.

“They believed that the core of their political scheme, after their plot of terrorism failed, was to hit the constitution… the scheme was for terrorism to come and fully take over and be given the quality of moderation and later be given the legitimate cover, of course from the outside and not the inside. Their scheme was to undermine the constitution, and consequently create absolute chaos from which the only exit would be a sectarian, ethnic constitution that turns us from people committed to their homeland into conflicting groups that cling to their sects and seek help from strangers against their own.”

The President stressed that the sectarian experiences prove that sectarian regimes turn the people of one homeland into adversaries, and when there are enemies and adversaries anywhere, then in that case each party looks for allies, and the allies in such cases wouldn’t be inside Syria, or inside the homeland, and since relationships would be based on doubt, grudge, and hatred in the sectarian model, then the ally would be found in the outside.

“Here is when the imperialist states come and put themselves forward as protectors of those groups, and their interference in the affairs of that homeland becomes justified and legitimate, and then they move at some point to partitioning when the partitioning scheme is ready. Therefore, and in order to consolidate their scheme, we all notice that the sectarian terms occupy a significant space in the political discourse of the terrorism-sponsoring countries, the regional and the international ones,” he added, stressing that all this seeks to consecrate this concept and make it seem unquestionable or even indispensable, at which point pressure would begin on Syria to accept this logic.

His Excellency explained that just like unity starts with the unity of the people and not with geography, division also begins in the same way by dividing the people, adding “since we never have and never will allow them to take Syria down that way into the abyss, we proposed at the start of Geneva 3 a paper of principles that form basis for talks with other sides.”

President al-Assad said that after reaching agreement over the principles proposed by Syria, then it’s possible to discuss other issues like the national unity government which would draft a new constitution via a specialized committee then put it to referendum, with parliamentary elections coming after that.

He said that everyone today asks repeatedly “what is your vision for the solution,” explaining that the solution has two aspects: the political side and fighting terrorism.

Returning to the issue of principles, the President said principles are necessary in negotiations or talks because they need reference points, and in the case of Syria they try to say that the reference point is decision 2254, but decisions contradict themselves, like the 2012 Geneva statement that speaks of Syria’s sovereignty and at the same time tries to impose a transitional body on the Syrian people.

He said that when one sets principles, they prevent sides from proposing whatever they want and define limits, and any proposition outside these principles would be considered obstruction and lack of seriousness.

“I will quickly mention the basic principles proposed in the paper: Syria’s sovereignty and unity, rejection of foreign interference, rejection of terrorism, supporting reconciliations, preserving establishments, lifting the siege, reconstruction, and controlling borders. There are also other points that are mentioned in the current constitution and other constitutions like cultural diversity, citizens’ liberties, and independence of the judiciary, and other principles. We didn’t agree to any proposition outside these principles, quite simply, and this is why they refused. We didn’t hear anyone saying no but there was evasion.

President al-Assad said these principles would form basis for the success of talks if there was credibility and seriousness, in addition to showing a clear vision of the mechanism of political work that would lead to a Syrian-Syrian solution, adding “but actual talks, up to this moment, haven’t started; rather we were holding dialogue during the rounds with the international facilitator, which as I said isn’t a side to negotiate with. They didn’t respond to the paper of principles. Our delegation would ask about other sides’ reactions, and we never got an answer, which shows that those sides are reliant on their masters and it became clear that they came unwillingly and submissively to Geneva, with them beginning since the first day with making preconditions. And when they failed, they declared clearly in the last round their support of terrorism and of undermining the cessation of hostilities.”

His Excellency said that the principles paper was ignored by the other sides, and instead there was a suggestion from international sides to engage in indirect talks in different rooms with the facilitator playing the mediator, which also didn’t happen, adding that what was proposed was merely a number of questions under the tagline of “common denominators” when in fact all these questions were traps that contained terms that would harm Syria’s sovereignty, safety, its establishments, or its society.

President al-Assad said that the states involved in this issue won’t let the mediators or envoys work in an honest and independent manner, with officials from these states working behind the states and drafting the aforementioned questions under the assumption that the Syrian Arab Republic’s team of negotiators isn’t well-versed in politics, but in fact the Syrian team’s answers were decisive and they couldn’t let any of those suspicious terms slip past them, adding “in truth, for us, whoever came up with these questions, whether they were from the facilitator’s team or from those states, are either amateurs or novices in the world of politics.”

He went on to reiterate that the “other side” came to Geneva against their will after their masters forced them to go, and they came yelling and went and sulked in their hotels, and once in a while their masters would instruct them to make a certain statement, and apart from all of that there were no negotiations or agenda, as the only agenda approved for them by Riyadh is the agenda of when to wake up, sleep, and eat.

“Of course, when they failed to achieve what they wanted in the first time, they wanted to withdraw and hold Syria responsible, but they couldn’t do that in the second time. In the last time, their response was a public declaration of supporting terrorism and stopping the truce or withdrawing from the truce or what was called the cessation of hostilities,” stressing that the aftermath of that was the brutal shelling of Aleppo and the targeting of hospitals, civilians, and children by terrorists.

“Although most Syrian provinces, villages, and towns have suffered and still suffer from terrorism, and they resisted it and still do, Erdogan’s fascist regime has always focused on Aleppo because for him it’s the only hope for its Muslim Brotherhood project after he failed in Syria and after his criminal and extremist nature was exposed to the world, and also because Aleppo’s people refused to be a pawn and a tool in the hand of strangers and they resisted and persevered and remained in Aleppo, defending it and defending the homeland,” adding that Aleppo will be the graveyard where the dreams and hopes of the butcher Erodgan will be buried.

The President went on to note that in addition to what happened in Aleppo, terrorism continued to strike, with massacres in al-Zara and barbaric bombings in Tartous and Jableh, with terrorists trying in vain to incite strife in Syria, because all Syrians are brothers in life and in martyrdom who cling to life, steadfastness, and victory.

“In this context, the issue that was proposed constantly during the past few months was the issue of truce. Many of us hold the truce responsible for all that is happening. Let’s talk objectively here; nothing in this world is absolute except divine ability, and for us humans everything is relative. The truce, like anything else, if is positive then it has negative points, and if it’s negative it has positive points. In all cases, this truce doesn’t cover all areas in Syria in order for us to burden it with the negativities,” he said, adding that the truce resulted in many reconciliations that prevented a lot of bloodshed of Syrian civilians and armed forces, in addition to having benefits on the international levels that won’t be discussed now.

“On the military level, it allowed for concentrating military efforts in specific directions and realize achievements, and the first proof is liberating Palmyra shortly after the beginning of this truce and after it al-Qaryatain, and in the Ghouta of Damascus several areas were liberated of course,” the President said, adding that some of those areas were liberated in these months in much less than it would have taken to liberate them otherwise.

He explained that the problem with the truce is that it was reached with international consensus and with the agreement of the State, but there was no commitment by the US side in particular to the terms of this truce, and the US turned a blind eye to the actions of its Saudi and Turkish agents in the region.

President al-Assad noted that the Saudis openly declared their support for terrorism more than once, and Turkey openly sends terrorists across the borders to the northern areas in Syria, all while the Americans turn a blind eye to these practices, stressing that Erdogan, who caused chaos by sending forces into Iraq, blackmailed the Europeans with the refugees issue, and sent thousands of terrorists to Aleppo recently, has been reduced to a political bully or hoodlum.

“They weren’t content with the terrorism of explosives and shells; they also backed it with economic terrorism through sanctions against Syria and through pressuring the Syrian Pound with the goal of economic collapse and bringing the people to their knees,” the President said, noting that despite all difficulties the Syrian economy is still withstanding, with recent monetary steps proving the possibility of standing up to pressure and reducing the damage its caused and stabilizing the Syrian Pound.

His Excellency said that this will probably be a priority for the Assembly and for the new government that will be formed as per the constitution, explaining that the issue of the Syrian Pound is linked to the effect of terrorism in terms of its attacks on infrastructure and economic facilities, cutting off roads between cities, scaring off capitals, and the people’s reaction in general to terrorism.

President al-Assad pointed out that addressing with the Syrian Pound is a short-term issue, while the long-term issue is economy which was affected by the crisis in various ways, with some investors suspending their projects at the beginning in hopes of things returning to normal, while others continued with their work.

He stressed that what is needed for the sustainability of support the Syrian Pound and the economy is for investors to carry out projects regardless of their scales and for the government to look into laws and legislations to strengthen the economy, noting that after five years of the crisis, Syrians now have experience in how to deal with the current situation and don’t have to start from the beginning.

“The terrorism of economy and the terrorism of explosives and massacres and shells are one and the same, so I assure you that our war against terrorism continues, not because we like wars, because they imposed war on us, but the bloodshed won’t end until terrorism is uprooted no matter where it is and regardless of the masks it wears.

“Just like we liberated Palmyra and many other areas before it, we will liberate every inch of Syria from their grasp. We have no choice other than victory, or else there won’t be a Syria and out children will not have a present or a future,” President al-Assad affirmed, noting that this doesn’t mean excluding the political track, explaining “we will continue working on the political track no matter how slim the possibilities of realizing and achievement are, and this is based on the strong desire on the popular and official levels to stop bloodshed and destruction and to save the country. However, any political process that doesn’t begin, continue, and end with eliminating terrorism is meaningless and will not produce results.”

His Excellency reiterated his call for everyone who decided to bear arms for any reason to join reconciliations, because the path of terrorism only leads to destroying Syria and the loss of its people without exception.

The President addressed the Army and Armed Forces and the supporting forces, saying that no words can do them justice as they are the reasons why Syria persists, saluting them and their families and their comrades who were martyred or injured.

“The defeat of terrorism must be realized as long as there are states like Iran, Russia, and China that support the Syrian people and stand by righteousness and assist the wronged in the face of the wrongdoer,” President al-Assad said, thanking these states for their firm positions and for respecting their principles and supporting peoples’ right to self-determination.

“Here I hope that we don’t pay any heed to what is proposed in media about disputes and clashes and divisions. Things are much more firm than before and the vision is much clearer. Don’t worry; things are good in this track,” he added.

The President also thanked the Lebanese resistance for the help it provided in fighting terrorism in Syria and saluted its fallen heroes.

Addressing the Assembly members, His Excellency said that they are faced with serious tasks and major challenges, and while the sacrifices of Syrian heroes who gave their lives for their country is part the price of restoring security, triumphing over terrorism, reclaiming land, and rebuilding Syria, then the other part of that price is fighting corruption, chaos, and unlawful actions.

“These heroes gave their lives in defense of the land and the people and of the country with its constitution, establishments, and law. The price we have to pay is preserving the constitution, preserving establishments and developing them, consecrating justice and equal opportunities. These heroes gave their lives to restore the homeland whole and intact. The homeland whole is made up of all these elements together, so live up to their sacrifices, be as the people hope you to be. Your mission isn’t just a duty entrusted to you by the voters; it is also a duty entrusted to you by the martyrs and the wounded and bereaved mothers and all those who offered their blood, money, intellect, and position to protect their homeland. It is a great and serious duty, so let us all bear it together and live up to it.”

Second UN report on ISIL

Report of the Secretary-General on the threat posed by ISIL (Da’esh) to international peace and security and the range of United Nations efforts in support of Member States in countering the threat

I. Introduction

1. In adopting its resolution 2253 (2015) on 17 December 2015, the Security Council expressed its determination to address the threat posed to international peace and security by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Da’esh) and associated individuals and groups, as well as the importance of cutting off its access to funds and preventing it from planning and facilitating attacks. In paragraph 97 of resolution 2253 (2015), the Council requested that I provide an initial strategic-level report, followed by updates every four months thereafter, that demonstrates and reflects the gravity of the aforementioned threat, including the threats posed by foreign terrorist fighters joining ISIL and associated groups and entities; the sources of financing of those groups, including through illicit trade in oil, antiquities and other natural resources; and their planning and facilitation of attacks. The Council also requested that the report reflect the range of United Nations efforts in support of Member States in countering the threat.
2. In my initial report (S/2016/92), issued on 29 January 2016, I addressed the areas identified by the Council and set out recommendations for strengthening the capacities of Member States to mitigate the threat posed by ISIL, as well as the ways in which the United Nations could support those efforts.
3. The present report was prepared with the input of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate and of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team established pursuant to Security Council resolution 1526 (2004) concerning Al-Qaida and the Taliban and associated individuals and entities of the Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015) regarding the gravity of the threat posed by ISIL and its geographical evolution, and in close collaboration with the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force, the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre and other relevant United Nations actors and international organizations. It provides an update on the gravity of the threat posed by ISIL and associated groups and entities, as well as on ISIL funding sources. It highlights the efforts and progress of Member States in implementing related counter-terrorism measures in a number of thematic areas, and the risks posed by foreign terrorist fighters who return to their home States or travel to other States. It also considers the presence and influence of ISIL outside Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic, notably in Afghanistan, Libya and South-East Asia; the use of information and communications technology (ICT) by ISIL; the issue of conflict-related sexual violence; and the range of technical assistance and capacity-building efforts undertaken by the United Nations and its partners.

II. The gravity of the threat

A. The threat posed by ISIL and associated groups and entities
4. The global threat emanating from ISIL remains high and continues to diversify. Since my initial report, the continued military pressure exerted in Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic by international coalition forces has led to serious military setbacks for ISIL. However, even though the territorial expansion of ISIL in both States has been halted and, in part reversed over recent months, many Member States have noted that ISIL is not yet strategically and irreversibly weakened. Nevertheless, several Member States report a marked increase in the rate of returnees from Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic. Furthermore, information received from Member States points to recent discussions inside the core ISIL leadership concerning the group’s future strategy. Although the discussions do not yet appear to have led to a serious disruption in the internal cohesion of the core leadership, this development should be further monitored.
5. Several Member States have stated that the core leadership of ISIL is seeking to elevate the role of its affiliates. In addition, recent international attacks perpetrated by members of ISIL demonstrate that the terrorist group is now moving into a new phase, with the increased risk that well-prepared and centrally directed attacks on international civilian targets may become a more frequent occurrence. In the past six months alone, ISIL has carried out, inspired, or claimed responsibility for, terrorist attacks in Bangladesh, Belgium, Egypt, France, Germany, Indonesia, Lebanon, Pakistan, the Russian Federation, Turkey and the United States of America. The attacks have killed over 500 individuals and injured hundreds more. The list does not include attacks and fighting in conflict zones inside Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, the Syrian Arab Republic or Yemen. ISIL thus continues to pose a significant global terrorist threat.
6. The attacks in Paris in November 2015 and in Brussels in March 2016 demonstrate the ability of ISIL to mount complex, multi-wave attacks. National law enforcement agencies continue to investigate those attacks, but it is already clear that they were coordinated by foreign terrorist fighters who had returned to Europe from ISIL-held territory in the Syrian Arab Republic. To some extent, these cells received direction from the ISIL leadership and were supported and facilitated by a range of individuals and groups with pre-existing records of involvement in criminality (including Al-Qaida-affiliated terrorist groups). This demonstrates the ability of ISIL returnees to quickly link up and draw on the support of established radical networks and supporters of Al-Qaida and thereby enhance their newly acquired terrorism skills with local knowledge and support.
7. Finally, continuing pressure on ISIL in Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic also increases the likelihood that the terrorist group may try to move funds to affiliates outside the immediate current conflict zone. Initial reports received from Member States indicate that this may already be occurring.
8. All of these factors demonstrate the crucial role played by States bordering the territories under ISIL control in Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic in efforts to sustainably undermine the terrorist group’s capacities. Continued direct access of the terrorist group to international borders remains a major area of concern. Several Member States highlight significant challenges in this regard. A worrying factor is that no Member State has reported that ISIL is short on, or lacks, arms or ammunition. Thus, in addition to risks connected with the outflow of returnees and funds from ISIL through Member States of the region, the potential inflow of arms and ammunition directly or indirectly to ISIL remains a serious concern.
B. ISIL funding sources
9. For the first time since the declaration of its so-called “caliphate” in June 2014, the ISIL core is under financial pressure. This was notably exemplified by the official announcement of ISIL, in late 2015, of a 50 per cent reduction in the salaries of fighters in Raqqah, Syrian Arab Republic. Although the proportions have changed, the sources of ISIL revenue have not altered significantly since my initial report. ISIL continues to rely on “taxation” and extortion, as well as on revenue from energy resources. However, according to several Member States, ISIL oil production and refining, and thus its oil revenues, have been diminished as a result of international airstrikes. Furthermore, the decision of the Government of Iraq to cut off salary payments to employees living within ISIL-controlled territory in Iraq has, according to one Member State, cut the flow of funds into ISIL-controlled territory by the equivalent of $2 billion per year, and has therefore significantly curbed ISIL opportunities to levy “taxes”.
10. Member States estimate that ISIL oil production has fallen by between 30 and 50 per cent as a result of the above-mentioned factors. However, the Monitoring Team notes that there may also be a “balloon effect”: as pressure is applied to one income stream, ISIL may step up its efforts to identify income from other sources (see S/2015/739). Member States have reported that ISIL has been attempting to compensate for the loss in oil revenues by intensifying efforts at “taxation”/extortion (for example, increasing the cost of certain permits and escalating the imposition of “fines”). According to one State, ISIL has been creating new “taxes” and increasing the rate of existing “taxes”.
11. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) reports that, because ISIL has not conquered new territory in Iraq for some time, its ability to loot and sell fresh resources, assets or antiquities has been diminished. It is not clear how much revenue ISIL earns from antiquities smuggling, but this practice remains a source of income. Since my initial report, Western European law enforcement agencies have initiated investigations into related smuggling activities, including two specific investigations involving the private sector. International and regional organizations have also highlighted the potential risks to Libyan and Yemeni cultural artefacts and the risk that the looting and selling of such artefacts may become a funding stream for listed terrorist groups.
12. As noted above, owing to the increased pressure on ISIL finances in the Syrian Arab Republic and Iraq, there is an increased risk that ISIL will attempt to exploit additional revenue-generating activities. The international community must therefore remain alert to attempts by ISIL to further diversify its revenue streams or expand relatively minor streams. For example, ISIL may seek outside donations (which have thus far represented a relatively small proportion of the terrorist group’s funding) or intensify its efforts to obtain international hostages for ransom. As previously reported by the Monitoring Team, ISIL reaped significant rewards from the ransoming of international hostages in 2014 (see S/2014/770 and S/2014/815). Its income from kidnapping fell in 2015 from 2014 levels. If ISIL once again seeks ransoms for international hostages, instead of cynically using them as propaganda in gruesome execution videos, this would be a further indication of the increasing financial pressure faced by the terrorist group.
13. In view of the ongoing military strikes against ISIL-controlled oil fields and related infrastructure and against the ability of ISIL to refine oil efficiently, there is a heightened risk that it will attempt to obtain the necessary spare parts and equipment to revitalize its ability to profit from hydrocarbon resources. It is therefore crucial that the necessary compliance procedures be put in place to prevent ISIL from obtaining replacement equipment and parts needed to repair destroyed oil field infrastructure and refining equipment (see S/2016/213). Some Member States have been working to identify a list of equipment and spare parts that ISIL may be trying to acquire, with a view to sharing the list with business sector entities so that those entities can more effectively target their compliance procedures.
14. As ISIL comes under continued pressure in Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic (including through military measures targeting cash storage sites), it is likely that it will attempt to move funds internationally and to convert local currency into currency or commodities, such as gold, which can be more easily transferred and used internationally. Money-service businesses, hawala exchange houses and other informal transfer systems remain vulnerable to abuse, but further attention should also be given to new payment methods, such as prepaid cards and virtual currencies. ISIL continues, nonetheless, to move funds through cash smuggling. Formal banking channels should also not be overlooked.
15. Member States, including Iraq, have already taken significant measures to limit the ability of ISIL to access the financial sector. However, continued vigilance must be maintained in this area, particularly in Member States bordering ISIL-controlled territory. Vigilance is essential not only to prevent ISIL from being able to maintain funds abroad but also to prevent it from distributing funds to its affiliates and facilitating attacks around the world. As noted in my initial report, the proliferation of ISIL affiliates and of pledges of loyalty to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi over the past two years demonstrates the global reach and ambitions of ISIL.
16. Some ISIL affiliates are purpose-built, but others have been created by the rebranding of existing terrorist groups. Several States have emphasized in their assessments that some of the pledges of loyalty from existing terrorist groups to ISIL represent an opportunistic effort to obtain support, including financial support, from the well-funded ISIL core. According to Member States, ISIL has provided funding, including “start-up” capital, to its affiliates, including in North Africa and Afghanistan. According to one Member State, the ISIL core is using its “province” in Libya as a financial hub for the funnelling of money to other terrorist groups. Moreover, at least some of the international attacks carried out by ISIL cells have been funded in part by money raised in the conflict zone. The “soft target” attacks perpetrated by ISIL internationally are relatively inexpensive and can, in many cases, be funded through local sources, such as the misappropriation of welfare benefits and petty crime. However, the cost of starting up, maintaining and providing long-term support for an affiliate is much higher. The provision of funds by ISIL to its affiliates and networks therefore remains a major concern.
17. Last, ISIL finances in Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic cannot be targeted in isolation. Libya, too, is crisscrossed by smuggling routes, and ISIL is also able to “tax” economic or smuggling activity in Libya (see S/2015/891). Thus, the expansion and consolidation of territory increase opportunities for financing. Thus far, there is no indication that any ISIL affiliate is funding the terrorist group’s core. However, this is another area in which vigilance is necessary, lest any ISIL affiliate develops sufficient revenue sources to financially support the core.
C. Foreign terrorist fighters joining ISIL and associated groups and entities: planning and facilitation of attacks
18. Significant numbers of foreign terrorist fighters continue to travel from States around the world to join ISIL in Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic. One Member State reported that around 38,000 individuals may have attempted to travel to the region in the past few years. Several Member States estimate that ISIL currently commands a total of around 30,000 fighters in the region (this number includes Syrian and Iraqi citizens in addition to foreign terrorist fighters). Most foreign terrorist fighters currently with ISIL travel from North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. Significant numbers have also travelled from Europe and South and South-East Asia. Information provided by Member States indicates that the flow continues. Even though the increase in the number of new foreign terrorist fighters travelling from some regions has slowed, the travel and attempted travel of new foreign terrorist fighters from other regions has increased. Countermeasures taken by States to detect and deter foreign terrorist fighters, and increased controls at the borders of Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic, may be affecting the numbers of such fighters able to join ISIL.
19. Determined foreign terrorist fighters who are aware of these controls are skilled at concealing their intention to travel, not least by using closed web forums and encrypted messaging services to engage with those facilitating their travel. They have been reported using forged or stolen identification documents and have also sought to conceal their travel to Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic by taking circuitous routes.
20. The profiles of individuals travelling to join ISIL in Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic continue to vary and to suggest a wide range of motivations. Member States thus continue to face challenges in trying to identify potential foreign terrorist fighters. Some such fighters may already have a personal history in conflict zones; some may have ideological reasons for joining ISIL; and others may be motivated primarily by salary. The continued recruitment of women by ISIL and the involvement of children as fighters remain sources of concern.
21. According to some States, there is a renewed risk of terrorist attacks in South-East Asia. Although the numbers of foreign terrorist fighters from South-East Asia travelling to Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic to join ISIL are relatively small, in comparison with those from other regions, they still number in the hundreds. Leaders of several established South-East Asian groups (and some newer groups) have pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (see S/2015/441). The existence of a Malaysian/Indonesian military unit within ISIL, known as the Katibah Nusantara or Archipelago Group, further underscores the threat that South-East Asian veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic may return with new skills.
22. An increasing number of foreign terrorist fighters are also returning to their home States. Some of these returnees leave conflict zones after becoming disillusioned with ISIL practices and with the conflict in which they were engaged. Others remain radicalized and retain the intent and capability, to conduct terrorist attacks in their country of origin or residence. Such fighters have been using practices such as “broken travel”, using false or stolen travel documents, or hiding among migrant flows, in order to avoid detection. As was demonstrated in Paris and Brussels, these individuals form cells and networks. Many were previously involved in criminality and already have links to criminal organizations that can help provide access to weapons and explosives. They also return with battlefield skills, training in the use of explosives and an understanding of the practices of police and security agencies. As a consequence, they are difficult to detect.
23. Attacks carried out by such cells demonstrate an increased complexity and reflect an intention to attack multiple targets in waves, stretch police and security service resources, and cause civilian panic and high numbers of casualties. Some of these terrorist groups appear to be directed from abroad. Some returnees have also relocated to other areas of conflict in order to join ISIL affiliates; establish new affiliates in accordance with ISIL ideology; or establish funding channels within the framework of the ISIL strategy to expand its global footprint. Most significantly, several hundred foreign terrorist fighters have returned to Libya.

III. Evolving aspects of the threat

24. In the sections below, I highlight the emerging threat posed by ISIL in States other than Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic, consider the use of ICT by ISIL and address the issue of conflict-related sexual violence.
A. Geographical evolution of the threat posed by ISIL
25. In view of the elevated presence of ISIL outside Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic, the present report provides an examination of the main affiliates of ISIL, as well as regions in which there is an elevated risk that new ISIL affiliates will be established. Subsequent update reports, to be submitted pursuant to paragraph 97 of resolution 2253 (2015), will examine these issues in greater detail.
1. ISIL in Libya
26. After 18 months of presence in Libya, this branch of ISIL continues to be part of a deliberate strategy on the part of the ISIL core to expand outside Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic. Member States note that some within the central ISIL leadership see Libya as a potential alternative theatre in view of the increased difficulties facing ISIL in Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic. In addition, ISIL has recognized that a foothold in Libya would enable it to build a hub for possible expansion in the wider Maghreb and Sahel regions and beyond. ISIL thus continues to take advantage of the political and security vacuum in Libya. Its Libyan branch has also benefitted from receiving guidance from the core ISIL leadership and from the extensive experience of ISIL with, and its knowledge of, inter alia, propaganda and the construction of improvised explosive devices.
27. Member States also indicate that ISIL in Libya supports other ISIL cells in the Maghreb (particularly in Tunisia, where this branch of the terrorist group has already provided support to ISIL-affiliated individuals). Continuous recruitment and facilitation activities in the region have also been reported. Several associated Maghreb-based cells have recently been dismantled by Member State security services.
28. ISIL in Libya has benefitted greatly from an inflow of new fighters since its inception. The ISIL core sent a group of around 800 Libyan fighters from Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic back to Libya in order to reinforce ISIL activities in the country (S/2015/891, para. 21) and continues to attract fighters from the Maghreb, the Sahel, the Middle East, East Africa and Western States. Although the total number of foreign terrorist fighters in Libya is significantly lower than that in Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic, Member States estimate the ISIL fighting force (which is mainly composed of foreign terrorist fighters) to comprise between 3,000 and 5,000 fighters. According to Member States, Libya serves as a waypoint and sanctuary for ISIL returnees on their way back to their home or to third States. However, ISIL in Libya continues to be considered an “outsider” element by the local population and other Libyan factions (ibid., para. 8).
29. ISIL in Libya has gained control over territory in a relatively short time. Recent attacks have targeted the coastline east of Sirte (including oil facilities) to deny income to other groups and rival factions in the country. ISIL consistently attempts to expand its sphere of influence by attacking security checkpoints, inhabited areas and vital installations. However, it faces difficulties in operating and expanding outside its stronghold in Sirte, which continues to host most of the leadership of ISIL in Libya. According to information provided by Member States, ISIL controls various individual cells in Darnah, Ajdabiya and Benghazi, where military operations have succeeded in dislodging larger groups of ISIL fighters. Tripoli also continues to be home to ISIL cells. Finally, Member States report a small ISIL presence in southern Libya, established to provide logistical support and training to incoming foreign terrorist fighters. On 19 February 2016, in Sabratha, ISIL in Libya suffered a significant setback when more than 40 such fighters, including many Tunisian fighters linked to high-profile attacks in Tunisia, were killed in an airstrike.
30. According to information provided by Member States, ISIL in Libya continues to be largely self-funded through “taxation” within and in the vicinity of Sirte. However, one Member State also reported the provision of funding from the ISIL core through emissaries. ISIL does not currently appear to earn income directly from exploiting Libya’s crude oil resources.
31. The continuing difficulties experienced by ISIL in Libya in consolidating its territory, building alliances and competing with other actors, including transnational smuggling networks in the region, have the potential to hinder the branch from gaining additional momentum in the coming months. Nevertheless, the presence of ISIL in Libya remains a risk factor. It will therefore be necessary to continue to monitor the terrorist group’s operational capacities, the expansion of its influence in a local environment that is not necessarily favourable and the reactions of other terrorist groups in the Sahel and West Africa.
2. ISIL in Afghanistan
32. The leadership vacuum in the Taliban’s “Islamic Emirate” following the death of Mullah Omar was filled in mid-2015 by the declaration of a new “amir al muminin”, Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, who implored Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to refrain from extending his domain into Afghanistan. Because the new Taliban leader was contested (owing to his narrow tribal base, involvement in the narcotics trade and lavish lifestyle) a number of factions in the Afghan Taliban movement declared their support for ISIL. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, until that time a loyal affiliate of core Al-Qaida, also identified more with the so-called “caliphate” of ISIL and resisted the new leadership, despite the pledge of loyalty of Al-Qaida leader Aiman Muhammed Rabi al-Zawahiri’ to Akhtar Mohammad Mansour in September 2015. Some members of ISIL in Afghanistan are former fighters of Tehrik-e Taliban in Pakistan. Both latter groups had been displaced from their previous sanctuary, in North Waziristan, Pakistan, to border areas inside Afghanistan. Only a handful of individuals with ISIL in Afghanistan have come directly from Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic.
33. The forces of Akhtar Mohammad Mansour defeated these new ISIL factions in South, South-East and West Afghanistan, postponing offensive operations in each territory against the Government of Afghanistan. As a result, the presence of ISIL in those areas went underground, but remains active. In 2015, ISIL was able to take control of the Achin, Deh Bala, Kot and Nazyan districts in Nangarhar Province, along the border with Pakistan. Following its decision to ban poppy cultivation in those districts, ISIL in Afghanistan was also attacked by local elites and strongmen involved in narcotics trafficking. In 2015, international counter-terrorism forces operating in Afghanistan began to target ISIL systematically. In the face of this opposition, ISIL tactically retreated from the main settled areas to the mountainous periphery alongside the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In autumn 2015, ISIL was estimated to have between 1,400 and 2,000 fighters in Nangarhar Province. By the first quarter of 2016, however, this force was estimated to consist of fewer than 1,000 fighters. Some former Taliban, who in 2014 had aligned themselves with ISIL, returned and pledged allegiance to former Taliban leader Akhtar Mohammad Mansour.
34. ISIL in Afghanistan has proved its ability to hold limited terrain and to conduct terrorist attacks in major cities beyond its core territory. Attacks using an improvised explosive device in Kabul targeted a Shia mosque, and a complex suicide attack in Jalalabad targeted the Pakistani Consulate. Attacks are also carried out in border areas inside Pakistan.
35. Following the destruction of the terrorist group’s fixed FM radio station in February 2016, the terrorist group resumed broadcasts of its “Voice of the caliphate” from a mobile platform in an effort to avoid detection. The terrorist group has access to the Internet and continues to produce high-quality and frequent propaganda movies.
36. According to one Member State, a significant financial source for ISIL in Afghanistan is funds originating from ISIL in Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic. The funds are moved by money transfers routed through third States. These resources were sufficient for ISIL in Afghanistan to acquire a large portion of the opium harvest of the four districts in Nangarhar Province in the first quarter 2015 and are estimated to amount to several million dollars. According to several Member States, ISIL subsequently burned the poppy crop. This demonstrates that the terrorist group has sufficient financial assets in Afghanistan and does not currently need to rely on the narcotics trade to finance its operations in the country.
B. Use of information communications technology
1. Use of information communications technology platforms by ISIL
37. ICT is a key enabler for ISIL and plays an essential role in enabling ISIL and its affiliates to function, recruit and attack. The military and economic squeeze currently being effected on ISIL in the territories it controls, in particular Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic, has not yet been translated into a similar reduction of its cyberpresence. The threat in this sector is significant, dynamic and evolving.
38. Although many ISIL accounts have been suspended in recent years, it has maintained a proactive response to sustain control over its propaganda on social networking sites. For instance, in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks at the Brussels airport in Zaventem and the Molenbeek metro station on 22 March 2016, several private pro-ISIL Telegram channels began coordinating an online propaganda campaign on Twitter by exploiting trending Brussels hashtags (for example, #Brussel #Brussels #Bruxelles #Brusselsattacks) and flooding them with ISIL propaganda, including videos. Coordination by ISIL of social media campaigns through the use of proxy disseminators that propagate its virulent narrative — with or without the direction of the ISIL core — marks an evolution in its propaganda campaign.
39. There is continuing evidence of online sharing of instructional videos or materials, such as those on the planning and execution of terrorist attacks or the construction of improvised explosive devices (see S/2014/770, para. 19), and on the use of small arms and light weapons. Although such theoretical instructions usually require practical training and field exercises to be effective, sharing relevant materials online is easy and facilitates such activities. Recent reports suggest that terrorist organizations are also engaged in the online trafficking of weapons via social media and communication platforms in States that are either in or neighbouring the conflict zones in the Middle East.
40. ISIL may currently lack technical capabilities for cyberattacks against critical infrastructures. However, the risk that ISIL will purchase attack tools from the “darknet” is real and developing. Data (in particular sensitive personal data of law enforcement personnel) is a key target for ISIL and its sympathizers. The so-called “caliphate cyber army” and other hacker groups that currently appear to be only sympathizers of ISIL could be recruited by ISIL as force multipliers.
2. Enhancing cooperation with private information and communications technology companies
41. Although States bear the primary responsibility for preventing and countering the threat posed by terrorist use of ICT, their success depends upon harnessing the knowledge, expertise and active support of relevant stakeholders such as the private sector and civil society. Online radicalization cannot be tackled by focusing exclusively on attempts to remove content or to restrict access to the Internet. The private sector — particularly the media and the technology sector — possesses a range of tools and resources that could be used to help Governments and civil society build resilience to radicalization. Often, grass-roots organizations lack the technical expertise to maintain and update websites and social media platforms designed to maximize the efficacy of counter-messaging initiatives. There remains considerable scope to develop online counter-narratives by further supporting grass-roots initiatives and working increasingly with the private sector.
42. Many leading ICT companies have measures in place to prevent the abuse of their platforms. Google and Facebook recently announced the launch of anti radicalization campaigns to be conducted together with civil society organizations. In February 2016, Twitter announced that, since mid-2015, it had deleted more than 125,000 accounts linked to terrorists. On 20 May 2016, Microsoft announced that it was revising its approach to terrorist content online and its terms of use and would use the Consolidated United Nations Security Council Sanctions List to take down content. These companies are increasing their capacities to enforce their terms of use and allow users and Governments to flag content while also facilitating the dissemination of counter-messages by credible messengers.
43. Certain companies are recognizing the need to raise awareness of their operational guidelines for law enforcement officials seeking user records, particularly through the use of the emergency disclosure request process, data-preservation requests and requests for basic subscriber information. The creation of a network of trusted and listed points of contact would facilitate cooperation between organizations committed to preventing terrorist use of the Internet.
C. Conflict-related sexual violence
44. Sexual violence continues to be used as a tactic of terrorism to increase the power, revenue and recruitment base of ISIL, as well as to shred the social fabric of targeted communities. As I noted in my recent report on conflict-related sexual violence (S/2016/361) although the threat of sexual violence has been a “push” factor driving forced displacement of civilians, the offer of wives and sex slaves has been a strategic “pull” factor for the recruitment of men and boys, inducing both local youths and foreign fighters, to join ISIL ranks (ibid., paras. 19-22). ISIL describes the capture and enslavement of “infidel” women and children as an inevitable consequence of its conquest of new territory and seeks to regulate and codify sexual slavery. This reinforces the explicit justification of sexual enslavement.
45. The trafficking of women and girls remains a critical component of the financial flows to ISIL and its affiliates, which continue to exploit ICT to extort funds through the trafficking and sale of women. “Innovative” uses of communication platforms, such as through the use of private messaging applications, have allowed ISIL and its affiliates to secretly communicate through encrypted messaging and sell women and girls through an online bidding process.
46. There is a need to ensure accountability for sexual violence as part of United Nations counter-terrorism strategies. Sexual violence must be prosecuted as vigorously as terrorist acts. At its fifty-fifth session, the Committee Against Torture, adopting its concluding observations on Iraq (A/HRC/28/18), expressed concern that ISIL had instituted a pattern of sexual violence, slavery, abduction and human trafficking targeted at women and girls belonging to religious and ethnic minorities, and recommended that Iraq take measures to promote the protection of women and eliminate the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators. It is therefore important that there is a collective effort to preserve evidence of the violations committed by ISIL, including sexual violence.
47. States should continue to deepen their understanding of sexual violence as a tactic of terrorism and formally recognize victims of sexual violence as victims of terrorism in order to build counter-narratives and counter-strategies and pave the way for reparations and redress. States should also engage with traditional and religious leaders who can help to shift the shame and stigma of sexual violence from the victims to the perpetrators. This is vital to ensuring that extremists do not win the underlying battle of ideas. This includes negating attempts to legitimize rape on religious terms. The efforts of States to counter violent extremism must not compromise women’s rights, but rather empower women as part of efforts to foster resilient families and communities, as called for in resolution 2178 (2014) on addressing the terrorist threat. Finally, States should ensure that their national legislation criminalizes the use of social media platforms and messaging applications to sell women and children.

IV. Updates on implementation by Member States of the relevant counter-terrorism resolutions

A. Criminal justice and legislation
48. The need to respond to the rapid evolution and escalation of the current terrorist threat, including the emergence of ISIL and its success in recruiting foreign terrorist fighters, has created additional legal counter-terrorism challenges. Member States continue to work to ensure that their legislation fully meets the requirements of resolution 2178 (2014) and facilitates an effective response to the foreign terrorist fighter phenomenon (including addressing the full range of serious crimes committed during travel (in particular war crimes, crimes against humanity and gender-related crimes)) (A/HRC/28/18).
49. Currently, only around one third of the 77 Member States (see S/2015/975) identified as “most affected” by the threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters have updated their legislation in response to resolution 2178 (2014). In many Member States, existing legislation falls short in several areas, including the need to prevent the travel of such fighters by comprehensively criminalizing preparatory or accessory acts. National legislation also remains overly broad or vague in many Member States and therefore risks providing inadequate protection of international human rights, humanitarian and refugee laws.
50. Member States also continue to work to strengthen their capacities to effectively investigate and prosecute complex terrorism-related cases and, in particular, cases related to foreign terrorist fighters. Collecting evidence in or from foreign terrorist fighter destination areas remains a serious challenge.
51. Several States report that a high proportion of their nationals suspected of returning from foreign terrorist fighter destination areas have either not met the threshold for prosecution or have received short prison sentences. Currently, only around half of the States most affected by the threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters have developed and implemented prosecution, rehabilitation and reintegration strategies for returnees. The Madrid guiding principles on foreign terrorist fighters (S/2015/939, annex II), in particular guiding principles 30-32, provide useful guidance in this field.
B. International cooperation
52. Because terrorist networks and the travel of foreign terrorist fighters extend beyond one particular region, Member States of different parts of the world rely increasingly on international cooperation with States beyond their traditional bilateral and regional cooperation networks. However, the assessments of the Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee show that there are numerous challenges associated with effective international cooperation in stemming the flow of such fighters, including delays in the provision of mutual legal assistance, procedural rigidities and lack of capacity.
53. The assessments of the Counter-Terrorism Committee also show that mutual legal assistance remains underutilized owing to the often lengthy and complicated procedures involved. Some Member States — including some of those most affected by the threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters — have not yet designated an effective central authority to handle requests for MLA and extradition. Delays in procedures can result in the total loss of evidence. The guiding principles and the relevant publications of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) provide useful guidance to enable Member States to effectively cooperate in criminal matters in order to bring terrorists to justice and stem the flow of such fighters.
54. The creation of judicial cooperation networks such as Eurojust, the European Judicial Network and the Southeast European Prosecutors Advisory Group has shown the utility of regional mechanisms in enhancing formal and informal cooperation. The designation of a network of contact points that are accessible 24 hours a day/7 days a week for cooperation can be an excellent tool in facilitating timely law enforcement exchange. A regional approach to updating legislation can also improve cooperation between Member States by facilitating legal consistency. The Council of Europe, for instance, recently concluded an Additional Protocol to its Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism, which provides for a harmonized approach to the implementation of resolution 2178 (2014).
C. Counter-financing of terrorism: countering the financing of ISIL and foreign terrorist fighters
55. Even though Member States have continued to make substantial progress in implementing the requirements of the relevant Security Council resolutions to prevent terrorist financing, they continue to face challenges in effectively implementing the new measures set forth in the relevant Council resolutions, which broaden the criminalization of terrorist financing to cover the financing of travel undertaken by foreign terrorist fighters. Several States have proposed that ISIL-linked individuals be designated in the ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions List, and some have used the asset-freezing provisions of resolution 1373 (2001) to make national designations of individuals and entities linked to ISIL, including foreign terrorist fighters.
56. Member States of the Financial Action Task Force and the Task Force-style regional bodies are engaged in a review of the risks presented by ISIL and its affiliates with regard to terrorism financing, and particularly in identifying operational barriers to the sharing of financial information and to enhancing the contribution of counter-terrorism financing agencies in the prevention and investigation of terrorism cases.
57. States are using existing inter-agency mechanisms to enhance coordination on terrorism and terrorism-financing cases. Some States enable financial institutions to share information on accounts or customers among themselves, but these practices are generally limited. Some States have recently piloted terrorism-financing information-sharing platforms that allow for the exchange of confidential information at operational and policy levels between Government agencies and pre authorized representatives of the private sector. Private-sector entities need also to receive additional information, not only to protect the international financial system but also to help to identify and dismantle terrorist networks through, for instance, the development of financial profiles. States also note that some financial products, such as prepaid cards, have an inherently higher vulnerability to abuse by terrorists. This was demonstrated following recent terrorist attacks connected with ISIL, including the Paris attacks of November 2015.
58. Physical transportation of cash across borders remains one of the preferred methods employed by ISIL for moving funds. States are increasingly aware of the need to strengthen controls on the cross-border movement of funds and goods, and some have recently taken steps to do so. Such steps include the completion of a national terrorism-financing risk assessment that identifies the various threats and risks, as well as countermeasures. For example, Member States of the Middle East and North Africa region neighbouring the conflict zone have identified significant risks associated with potential physical cross-border transportation of cash. However, the number of cases reported from 2014 to 2016 is very low, according to case statistics.
59. ISIL continues to rely on methods of transnational organized crime to circumvent the international counter-terrorism regime. Therefore, in addition to implementing the international counter-terrorism instruments and the United Nations sanctions regime, States are encouraged to utilize other relevant international instruments, such as the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime of 2000 and its Protocols. All these instruments can enhance measures taken by States to disrupt ISIL funding and can also be utilized to facilitate effective international and regional cooperation.
D. Law enforcement and border control
1. Law enforcement
60. Proactive and coordinated investigations are crucial to detecting terrorist recruitment, financing, travel and communications and thus to arresting suspects, deactivating terrorist cells and pre-empting terrorist activity. A number of States have successfully facilitated the collation, tracking and sharing of critical counter-terrorism intelligence with the use of centralized databases to which all counter-terrorism-mandated law enforcement agencies have access. In addition, national databases have been utilized to support regional and international information sharing. In some States, joint terrorism task forces play a lead role in coordinating counter-terrorism investigations and bringing together national and international stakeholders in the process.
61. Bilateral and multilateral agreements continue to enhance the ability of States to counter the threat posed by ISIL and foreign terrorist fighters. States also benefit from participation in existing international and regional law enforcement bodies such as the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), the European Police Office (Europol) and the Association of Heads of Police of the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEANAPOL).
62. Because of the success of ISIL and other terrorist organizations in recruiting new members through family and neighbourhood connections, the role played by law enforcement agencies in implementing preventive measures to tackle radicalization has taken on greater significance. Community policing and proactive intelligence work are two of the methods being used by some States to help to deter radicalization and halt the recruitment of foreign terrorist fighters. Although some States have already made good progress in strengthening internal coordination and real-time exchange of information, others are at an initial stage in developing their related counter-terrorism law enforcement systems and capacities. There remain shortfalls in the capacities of many States to create and effectively utilize the range of law enforcement measures and practices required to counter terrorism in general and the travel of foreign terrorist fighters, in particular.
2. Border control
63. The design and implementation of comprehensive border-management strategies continue to be challenging for many Member States, especially in the context of porous borders and the identification of departing or transiting foreign terrorist fighters. However, Member States have recognized that putting in place effective border control remains an essential aspect of countering terrorism and stemming the flow of such fighters. At official entry and exit points, key mechanisms include advance passenger information, passenger name records, biometric technology, and INTERPOL and national databases. Since the adoption of resolution 2178 (2014), the number of States using advance passenger information has increased from 51 to 56. Taking into account the high degree of complexity and resources required to develop a system for advance passenger information, however, it is likely that there will not be any appreciable upsurge in the number of States utilizing such systems for at least another four or five years. The recent recommendation of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Facilitation Panel to introduce an amendment to annex 9 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation (“Chicago Convention”) to make the use of advance passenger information a binding international standard may speed progress in this area. It should be noted, however, that advance passenger information and/or passenger name records alone cannot prevent the travel of foreign terrorist fighters.
64. Some States have responded to the threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters by increasing the number of official border points and/or the number of officials assigned to those points or by strengthening the technological capacity of existing border points. Some employ modern communication and surveillance methods to monitor border sections beyond official crossing points.
65. However, ISIL continues to use evolving, technologically efficient methods to facilitate the travel of foreign terrorist fighters (S/2016/92, para. 32). These include online forums to disseminate information on ways for such fighters to avoid detection while crossing borders, using routes that will not raise suspicion, and to alert them to the particular elements that States look for when screening at borders. To stem the flow of such fighters, States should develop and implement an additional range of flexible, complementary and coordinated border management measures, adapted to local conditions.
E. Countering recruitment and preventing/countering violent extremism
66. Member States continue to express deep concern over the abuse of the Internet and social media by ISIL and affiliates seeking to recruit new members and incite or glorify the commission of terrorist acts. During the thematic debates of the Security Council, held on 14 April 2016 and 11 May 2016 under the presidency of China and Egypt, respectively, Member States stressed the importance of effective measures to prohibit and counter such abuse, including through full implementation of resolution 1624 (2005) on the threat of incitement to commit acts of terrorism, as well as on the need to counter the narrative of terrorists. Member States also noted the need to ensure respect for international human rights obligations in undertaking related actions.
67. Member States are paying increased attention to the development of comprehensive approaches to countering recruitment and preventing and countering violent extremism, including by establishing partnerships with non-governmental actors. There is broad international recognition that effective strategies in this domain require the involvement of governmental actors not traditionally involved in counter-terrorism efforts, such as those concerned with education, social welfare, regional development, human rights and religious affairs. As stated in resolution 2178 (2014), it also requires engagement with relevant local communities and non governmental actors and the empowerment of concerned civil society groups. Progress in this area has been slow. Care should be exercised in defining the respective roles of Governments and civil society actors. In the case of civil society and human rights defenders, emphasis should be placed on safeguarding the ability of non-governmental actors to operate in a secure environment and on fully respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedoms of thought, conscience, expression, religion, peaceful assembly and association.
F. Human rights
68. Measures taken to counter the threat posed by ISIL and other terrorist groups require States to contend with difficult issues with respect to their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights law. One concern is that the recent criminalization of certain conducts may not have been adequately considered and related policies may have been adopted in a reactive or hasty manner; States should therefore continue to ensure that proposed laws, policies and measures aimed at combatting ISIL and other terrorist organizations are subject to public debate and human rights review prior to adoption.
69. Measures taken to criminalize the attempted travel of foreign terrorist fighters to ISIL-controlled territories may also present more specific challenges. It may be problematic in certain cases to impose criminal liability prior to travel that is being undertaken to terrorist-controlled territory for the purpose of engaging in terrorist acts, when evidence of overt acts aimed towards that end may be scant. Prosecutions in some instances rely, in part, on acts of expression on the Internet and social media, and may implicate the rights to freedom of expression and conscience. In all cases, States need to ensure respect for the principle of legality and the presumption of innocence, and penalties attached to intended or attempted acts need to be proportionate.
70. Some States continue to implement measures to revoke travel documents, while others are considering measures such as the deprivation of nationality of suspected foreign terrorist fighters and of returnees. Due process and the goal of reducing statelessness must be taken into account in this regard. Likewise, States need to continue to take steps towards developing clear and objective criteria for the placement of individuals on so-called “watch lists” or “no-fly lists”. In assembling such lists, States need to ensure that any personal data is stored and managed in accordance with the purpose behind its initial collection, without unduly interfering with the right to privacy.
71. Some States have shown a strong inclination to take suspected foreign terrorist fighters who are returnees into custody and detain them, including for purposes of prevention. However, the legal basis for such measures may not comply with the relevant human rights obligations. Some have considered alternatives to detention, such as house arrest or targeted surveillance, for those intending to travel, as well as for returnees. These measures, too, must comply with human rights obligations. There is concern that the increase in migrant flows, due in part to the impact of ISIL in conflict areas, has had a negative effect on the right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution. States should continue to uphold international refugee laws in their determination of the requests of asylum-seekers and to honour the principle of non-refoulement. States should also carefully consider the possible impact of their laws, policies and measures on the provision of humanitarian assistance to populations in need.

V. Range of United Nations efforts in supporting the efforts of Member States to counter the threat of ISIL

72. Since my initial report, United Nations entities have taken a number of steps, in accordance with their individual mandates and in partnership with the relevant international and regional organizations, to support the efforts of Member States to counter the threat of ISIL. The steps are set out below.
A. Foreign terrorist fighters
73. Acting in close consultation with the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate and the Monitoring Team, the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force has developed a capacity-building implementation plan for countering the flow of foreign terrorist fighters that addresses the priority recommendations of the Counter-Terrorism Committee as contained in its third report on the fighters (S/2015/975). The plan includes 37 project proposals addressing the full “life cycle” of the foreign terrorist fighter phenomenon, including radicalization, travel and financing (and rehabilitation and reintegration, should they return).
74. On 21 January, the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force/United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre and representatives of the 12 submitting entities of the Task Force met with Council members and other interested Member States to brief them on the plan. The Centre will provide funding for seven of the projects, but significant donor resources will be required to fully implement the programme, as called for by the Council in its presidential statement S/PRST/2015/11. The Centre has further implemented its project to enhance understanding of foreign terrorist fighters, including the motivation of individuals joining terrorist groups in the Middle East, understanding key influences on their thinking and gaining insight into the reasons why they return to their home States.
75. Since my initial report, UNODC has continued to implement its five-year technical assistance programme on strengthening the legal regime against foreign terrorist fighters, which aims to strengthen national legal frameworks, train criminal justice and law enforcement officials through specialized thematic workshops, and enhance international, regional and subregional cooperation, including by setting up information-sharing platforms between certain Middle East States. At the conclusion of the programme’s first phase, UNODC issued two detailed reports that provide a useful inventory of the technical assistance needs of States of the region, as well as a compilation of good practices for addressing the threat posed by such fighters.
B. Criminal justice and legislation
76. Prosecutors are increasingly required to collaborate both with private communications service providers, international institutions and the prosecution authorities of other States. In its efforts to assist States to bring terrorists to justice and to support international cooperation in criminal matters, the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate joined forces with the Institute for Security Studies and the International Association of Prosecutors to develop, under the auspices of the Association, a counter-terrorism prosecutors network. The network will bring together prosecutors from 173 jurisdictions and enable them to cooperate with each other and to learn from each other’s experiences in handling the complexities of counter-terrorism prosecutions.
C. Countering the financing of terrorism
77. Members of the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force Working Group on Countering the Financing of Terrorism have been actively engaged in providing training in asset-freezing and dealing with kidnapping for ransom. On asset-freezing, the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force/United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre has developed a capacity-building project aimed at enhancing the implementation of the provisions contained in resolutions 1373 (2001), 1267 (1999) and 1989 (2011) through, inter alia, the provision of training and advice to Member States.
78. UNODC has organized workshops in the Middle East and North Africa region on freezing the assets of listed terrorists in accordance with the United Nations sanctions regime. In April 2016, UNODC and the Iraqi authorities reviewed the country’s draft counter-terrorism law (pending in parliament since 2011) and its recent draft law on terrorist asset-freezing. The revisions also follow the priority technical assistance needs identified during the assessment visit of the Counter-Terrorism Committee to Iraq in September 2015.
79. The United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre launched a project on building capacity to prevent terrorists from benefiting from ransom payments by building the capacity of States and relevant non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to achieve the safe return of hostages without granting the payment of ransoms or substantive political concessions in the process. The Centre also organized a regional conference in Nairobi in March, which was attended by NGOs, financial institutions and representatives of the insurance and media sectors, to discuss capacity-building needs in addressing and preventing kidnapping for ransom in Africa.
80. On 14 April 2016, the Counter-Terrorism Committee and the Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015) concerning Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities, together with the Financial Action Task Force, held a joint open briefing at United Nations Headquarters to highlight tactics and good practices in depriving terrorist groups of funding sources.
D. Law enforcement and border control
81. The Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate and the Swiss non governmental organization ICT4Peace launched a joint project on private sector engagement in responding to the use by terrorists of ICT. The launch event was attended by representatives from the ICT industry and the private sector, United Nations counter-terrorism and human rights entities, European Union Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs, the Europol Internet Referral Unit and think tanks.
82. Under this project, the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate and ICT4Peace will work with the private sector and civil society to deepen the understanding of current industry responses to the use by terrorists of their products and services, particularly with regard to content, and identify good practices. The ultimate objective of the project is to establish a forum through which these same practices and experiences can be discussed and shared with a greater number of actors. To attain that objective, a series of workshops will be held over the next few months in Europe, Asia and the Americas with the aim of engaging industry and civil society actors.
83. As part of United Nations efforts to increase the use by States of advance passenger information systems, two of five regional workshops aimed at raising awareness and building capacity on the issue were held in Bangkok in March 2016 for South and South-East Asian States, and in Amman in May 2016 for States of the Middle East and North Africa region. The events were organized by the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force/United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre, in close cooperation with the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, and with the participation of the International Air Transport Association, the International Civil Aviation Organization, INTERPOL and the International Organization for Migration. All invited States recognized the need to implement advance passenger information systems pursuant to resolution 2178 (2014) and that States with low capacities would benefit from United Nations support.
84. The United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre is also working with the Global Counterterrorism Forum on a joint border security initiative (initially focused on the Sahel and the Horn of Africa), which involves the gathering and dissemination of good practices on border security and management and border surveillance; and a determination of the capacity of States to apply them and to stem the flow of foreign terrorist fighters. The first and second regional workshops of the project were held in December 2014 and May 2015, respectively.
E. Countering recruitment and preventing/countering violent extremism
85. Together with the Government of Switzerland, I co-hosted the Geneva Conference on the theme “Preventing violent extremism: the way forward” on 7 and 8 April 2016. The Conference was attended by 745 participants from 125 Member States, 23 international and regional organizations, 26 United Nations entities, and 67 civil society organizations and private companies.
86. The discussions provided a valuable opportunity for Member States, international and regional organizations and civil society to share perspectives, experience and best practices on key issues related to the prevention of violent extremism. The Conference also provided a valuable forum for further consideration of my Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism (see A/70/674), which the General Assembly will consider in the context of the fifth review of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy to be held on 30 June and 1 July.
F. Addressing conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism
87. The Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force Working Group on Addressing Conditions Conducive to the Spread of Terrorism is working to strengthen capacities and raise awareness in the areas of youth, communications and education. The Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate continued to support the capacity of Member States to address the conditions conducive to terrorism as part of comprehensive national counter-incitement strategies, during workshops and within the framework of its constructive dialogue with Government officials and civil society representatives. UNODC and Hedayah hosted a regional conference in Abu Dhabi to explore the process of developing and implementing an effective preventative criminal justice strategy against radicalization and violent extremism related to the threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters, including the development of national strategies for countering and preventing violent extremism.
88. The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations supports youth-led civil society groups impacting hundreds of thousands of people. Media/computer games promoting peace have been developed and distributed. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization organized a conference and follow-up mechanisms on the role of the Internet in radicalization and recruitment. In terms of communications, the Department of Public Information of the Secretariat provided coverage of activities aimed at combating terrorism and violent extremism and disseminated programming in various languages, including through United Nations Radio, United Nations Web TV and social media. In support of refugees and other forcibly displaced people, including children and youth, and in an effort to minimize the risk of extremism and radicalization, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees provides access to resources and services and the realistic prospect of enjoying rights such as education, health care and employment.
G. Protecting human rights while countering terrorism
89. Members of the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force Working Group on Protecting and Promoting Human Rights and the Rule of Law while Countering Terrorism have continued to implement the project focusing on the training and capacity-building of law enforcement officials with regard to human rights, the rule of law and the prevention of terrorism, in coordination with partner Member States in the Middle East and North and West Africa. Partner States are in the process of identifying lessons learned and good practices from the training and are in a better position to adjust their counter-terrorism policies and practices so as to better demonstrate compliance with international human rights law, thus contributing to sustainable and systemic changes in behaviour. The Basic Human Rights Reference Guide series of the Working Group continued to provide Member States with guidance to implement changes in policy and practice on key areas such as detention, fair trials and national counter-terrorism legislation.
H. United Nations bodies and field missions
90. The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has prepared assessment reports on ISIL, which it shares with Member States to support their efforts to counter the threat of ISIL. UNSMIL continues to support the efforts of the Presidency Council in leading Libya’s transition and the establishment of the Government of National Accord to curtail further expansion of ISIL.
91. The Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate and UNAMI are working closely together to set up a coordination mechanism to address the priority technical assistance needs identified with Iraq during the Counter-Terrorism Committee’s September 2015 assessment visit to the country. The priority technical assistance recommendations are intended to enhance the capacities of Iraq in areas related to legislation, finance, law enforcement and border control. Several assistance providers, including Member States and United Nations entities and partner international and regional organizations, are currently being approached by the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate with a view to facilitating the delivery of technical assistance to Iraq.