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The UN’s Counter Terrorism Directorate (CTED) calls upon member-states to invest more in border security management because of increasing “cross-border movement of terrorist groups and foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) across unmonitored or under-monitored borders and their use of “broken travel” tactics.

The warning is issued by Assistant Secretary-General and Executive Director of CTED, Michele Coninsx who was evaluating the counter-terrorism movement of the UN on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the birth of counter-terrorism.

Counter-terrorism as a mechanism to proactively fight terrorism and terror financing across the world took birth through a United Nations resolution, 1373, 20 years ago on September 28, 2011, 17 days after “9/11”, and even today continues to be the main feeder of data and trends that give shape to anti-terrorism actions of individual nations.

Coninsx says as a result, “states have needed to develop more sophisticated measures to identify and halt terrorist travel…some states have introduced measures to identify travellers before they even board airplanes, for example, using electronic visas…Many have introduced legislation requiring airline carriers to provide advance passenger information …are also starting to use biometrics, facial recognition technology, and watch lists.”

The CTED recommends the continued global nature of the response to terrorism. “For example, even though FTFs travelled to the conflict zones from individual States, the effect on the international community of their movement through transit States and States bordering conflict zones (and now their potential return home or relocation to third-party States) has demanded a coordinated global response.”

Summing up the organisational trends of terrorist groups, Coninsx says: “There has been a huge evolution in the spectrum of threats, risks, challenges, fragilities, responses and trends that we could not have been foreseen even just a few years ago. Since the ‘9/11’ attacks, we have notably seen Al-Qaida and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as Da’esh continue to evolve from centralized organizations into more decentralized groups with a proliferation of affiliated groups all around the globe. This constant evolution makes the fight against terrorism more complex and more difficult.”

The CTED is currently focusing on another major trend — the “flow of foreign terrorist fighters to the conflict zones of the Middle East”. The Directorate’s reports help governments finalise and execute plans to counter the menace. “Large numbers of people, from more than 100 States, travelled to Iraq, the Syrian Arab Republic, and then other regions to engage in terrorism. And we saw that, not only were the numbers huge, but also there were people from all age groups: men, women, and entire families were travelling to the conflict zones. And then, after a period of time, many of the same groups either attempted to or succeeded to return to their home States or relocate to other States.”

There are other trends the CTD is following in the last few years, “including the rapidly increasing use of the Internet, social media, and other communications technologies for all kinds of terrorist purposes, including propaganda, recruitment and incitement”. The Directorate has come across evidence of people “being inspired by the online propaganda and recruitment activities of terrorist groups, their affiliates, and violent extremist groups”.

The CTED has observed the change in terrorist tactics from group attacks to lone person attacks as counter-terrorism efforts increased. The Directorate feels this is a dangerous trend as it is much more difficult to identify and track down a lone terrorist. Also, the targets and the causes have also changed. Coninsx says these “lone wolf actors” are individuals “motivated by xenophobia, racism, acts of intolerance, and violence, including sectarian violence”.

The United Nations was engaged on the issue of terrorism well before “9/11” but the attacks became a turning point and the need for a counter-terrorism mechanism resulted in the the Security Council adopting resolution 1373 in 2001.

“This landmark resolution defined a broad mandate to prevent and counter terrorism, but also had justice at its heart in clearly stating that we must all fight to bring terrorists to justice. Resolution 1373 (2001) created a body of legally binding obligations on Member States, calling upon them to implement measures intended to enhance their legal, institutional, and operational capacities to counter terrorist activities at home, in their regions, and around the world, and to work together to prevent and suppress terrorist acts.”

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) assumed greater significance with terrorism financing added to its mandate. Resolution 1373 also “specifically called on Member States to prevent the financing of terrorism and to refuse safe haven to terrorists. In particular, it called on States to increase cooperation to prevent and counter terrorism and established the Counter-Terrorism Committee, which consists of all 15 members of the Security Council, to monitor States’ implementation of the resolution”. A key trend in terror financing on the FATF and the Committee’s radar is the “use of cryptocurrencies and crowdfunding via social media’” that makes the tracing of terrorist money flows “more complex and more difficult”.

Subsequently, the Committee became “the norm-setter and policy developer at the level of the Council” It has adopted “more than 20 resolutions dealing with counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism conducive to terrorism to address the vast and dynamic evolution of the global terrorist threat,” as well as all kinds of related risks and challenges.

Security Council resolution 1535 (2004) established the Counter-Terrorism Directorate (CTED) as a special political mission to support the Committee in its work to monitor, facilitate and promote implementation of the relevant Security Council resolutions.

Many Security Council resolutions that have been adopted over recent years have broadened the scope of Member States’ obligations to counter terrorism. The CTED translates those resolutions’ political and highly technical requirements into very practical legal, institutional and operational measures to be implemented by Member States. This is important because, at the end of the day, Member States are the owners of the measures to be taken.

“The mandates of the Committee CTED have continued to expand and evolve to address the ever-changing terrorism threat landscape in a growing number of areas, including the development of comprehensive and integrated counter-terrorism strategies, the return and relocation of foreign terrorist fighters and their family members, legal and judicial measures, international cooperation, countering the financing of terrorism, countering violent extremism, the increasing links between transnational crime and terrorism, law enforcement, border management, biometrics, aviation and maritime security, the protection of critical infrastructure and soft targets, countering terrorist narratives, issues relating to the roles of women and children in terrorism, the misuse of information and communications technologies (ICT) for terrorist purposes, and restrictions on humanitarian assistance operations, among others.”

During the Covid-19 pandemic period, CTED has sought to focus on its short, medium and long-term impact on terrorism, counter-terrorism, and countering violent extremism, as well as on how that impact differs in conflict and non-conflict zones. “We have also looked at how the pandemic has affected and exacerbated existing trends, including in the context of the increasing abuse of the Internet and social media, as people around the world spent more time online under lockdown, becoming increasingly vulnerable to misinformation and violent extremist messaging.”


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