Situation, Facts and Events

Concerning the UN report on the threat from the Islamic State

The Islamic State (IS, banned in Russia), also known as Da’esh, still poses a very significant threat that increased in and around conflict zones where the group has a presence, which is supported by a recent UN report, US experts believe.


According to the UN Secretary-General, IS is expanding across sub-Saharan Africa, taking advantage of weak security forces, porous borders and poor governance, while the Islamic State of Khorasan (IS-K, banned in Russia) has demonstrated its ability to launch attacks in various regions of Afghanistan and remains the main opponent of the Taliban.


The report says that IS-K is seeking to undermine the Taliban's international relations by attacking diplomatic missions in the country.


The report also notes a diminishing prospect of IS affiliates in countries such as Libya and Mozambique, with its Mozambican affiliate at just over 10% of its original combat power.  


However, even under these conditions, IS caused the displacement of more than 160,000 people in just two months last summer.


Briefing members of the UN Security Council last week on the IS threat and the UN system's response, Deputy Under-Secretary-General for Counterterrorism Vladimir Voronkov noted that the fears of an increase in activity guided or inspired by IS after the lifting of pandemic related restrictions had eased, but he stressed that the threat of terrorism was still present.


The Security Council's semi-annual briefing highlighted the international community's increased concerns about the expansion of IS and the associated terrorist threats in Central and South Africa, and especially in the Sahel.


In countries where governance has proved weak and failed to provide security or economic and social growth for citizens, such situation continues to fuel social discontent with local authorities and international forces.  


This was most visible in Mali, where public sentiment against France as the former colonial power, and a growing tide of jihadist violence, led to the withdrawal of French counter-terrorism forces and the end of Operation Barhane. Instead, the Mali government invited PMC Wagner, a shady Russian private military company, signaling the beginning of a region’s transition fr om Western security partnerships to partnerships in favor of Moscow.


The reputation of PMC Wagner, despite all the Western disinformation campaign, has so far not affected its popularity with regional governments, as there have been reports that it may move to its activities in Burkina Faso and other parts of North and West Africa.


In late January, the US reported elimination of Bilal al-Sudani, a senior IS figure who was allegedly a key supporter and sponsor of its global operations, during a US military operation in northern Somalia. IS has an estimated 200 to 250 fighters in Puntland, and its al-Karrara office remains an important financial center for other affiliates. It is estimated that they can raise up to $100,000 a month through extortion and illegal taxation.


According to the UN report, in addition to the conflict with the local government, the Somali branch of IS clashed with another regional terrorist group, al-Shabaab, which hindered its expansion. Meanwhile, terrorist dynamics in Somalia are making it difficult for humanitarian aid to reach the country wh ere nearly half of the population faces severe food insecurity.


IS is estimated to have between 5,000 and 7,000 supporters, about half of whom are militants, in Iraq and Syria.


Despite a series of decapitating blows that caused uncertainty over the organization's next emir, the UN report says IS's regional leadership pool remains “deep enough to sustain a loss of leadership in the short term.”


According to the report, two potential candidates for the role, Juma Awad Ibrahim al-Badri and Bashar Khattab Ghazal al-Sumaidai, were excluded from the list of nominees due to reports of their detention. However, according to Iraqi intelligence, the new leader is possibly an Iraqi citizen and IS veteran who is likely to build upon his predecessor's strategy.


In the short term, IS may face significant difficulties in maintaining its finances, which have also been reportedly used to stimulate and support the activity of various regional affiliates dependent on the “core” for branding and financial support.


Command and control is a separate topic that causes a lot of controversy among counterterrorism analysts and IS experts. IS's cash reserves, which have fallen from all-time highs to $25-50 million today, are mainly used to pay salaries to their fighters, as well as to the families of killed fighters, as well as to recruit new ones and arrange the release of the fighters and group supporters from various places of detention.


Yemen, home to a key al-Qaeda affiliate capable of conducting lethal operations abroad, has only been attacked once by IS since the last UN report on the organization was submitted in late July last year. IS lacks local leadership and its “internal divisions remain significant,” the UN report notes.


The issue of repatriation of IS-linked individuals from camps in northeast Syria remains complicated; although Iraq has made progress, UN member states “have not seen a significant improvement in the unstable situation in the camps,” the report says.


Despite several recent repatriations of women and children to France, for example, the states are still concerned that returnees may receive excessively short prison sentences, and that difficulties in properly assessing risks have led the states to hesitate to repatriate their citizens, especially adult males or juvenile male prisoners.


Last week, the Security Council’s briefing on the report on IS highlighted two topical issues: the challenge of terrorists using the latest technology and the importance of gender-responsive approaches to countering terrorism.

Acting Executive Director of the Security Council's Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate Weixiong Chen talked about the new technologies in the report, citing concerns that IS is using drones “for surveillance, reconnaissance and ... attack.” The report also notes that IS continues using information and communication technologies (ICT) to spread propaganda and mobilize support, indicating that its use of ICT has become more “sophisticated and productive” despite its declining international profile.

Main findings

According to a UN report, the IS remains strong and is gaining ground around conflict zones.

The terrorist network is of particular concern in the Sahel and Afghanistan which are already facing complex challenges related to democratic governance, development and insecurity.

The rise of Russian private military company Wagner has come at the expense of European counter-terrorism partnerships and has raised questions about the viability of international security assistance in the Sahel.

After numerous decapitation strikes, the leadership of IS in Iraq remains unclear, with two potential candidates for the position being in custody.  

Source: Институт Ближнего Востока