UN ex­perts: Al-qaida greater threat than IS in some places

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - World -

AL-QAIDA’S global net­work re­mains “re­mark­ably re­silient” and poses a greater threat than the Is­lamic State ex­trem­ist group in sev­eral re­gions, in­clud­ing Ye­men and So­ma­lia, UN ex­perts say.

The panel of ex­perts mon­i­tor­ing sanc­tions against both groups said in a re­port to the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, ob­tained Wed­nes­day by The As­so­ci­ated Press, that al-qaida af­fil­i­ates also “re­main a threat at least as se­ri­ous” as IS in West Africa and South Asia.

In a sep­a­rate re­port cir­cu­lated Tues­day, UN ex­perts said IS poses “a sig­nif­i­cant and evolv­ing threat around the world” de­spite re­cent set­backs in Iraq, Syria and the south­ern Philip­pines that forced the mil­i­tants to re­lin­quish strongholds.

The new re­port said uniden­ti­fied UN mem­ber states high­lighted that some al-qaida and IS mem­bers “have been will­ing and able to sup­port each other in the prepa­ra­tion of at­tacks,” which poses “a po­ten­tial new threat” in some re­gions.

“In ad­di­tion, al-qaida pro­pa­ganda con­tin­ues to high­light a new gen­er­a­tion of po­ten­tial lead­ers, such as Hamza bin Laden ... in an ap­par­ent at­tempt to project a younger im­age to its sym­pa­this­ers,” the ex­perts said.

Bin Laden is the son of Osama bin Laden, who mas­ter­minded the alqaida ter­ror­ist at­tack on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, that killed nearly 3,000 peo­ple and in­jured over 6,000. He called on Mus­lims around the world in an au­dio mes­sage in Novem­ber to avenge his fa­ther’s killing in 2011 by US Navy SEALS.

In Syria, the ex­perts, said some un­named gov­ern­ments also high­lighted that the Nusra Front “re­mains one of the strong­est and largest al-qaida af­fil­i­ates glob­ally.” It aims to ab­sorb smaller groups in Syria though some mem­bers ar­gue that the Nusra Front should have “a more in­ter­na­tional out­look” and not con­cen­trate only on Syria, they said.

The Nusra Front re­mains the dom­i­nant force in the al-qaida-linked Hay’at Tahrir al Sham coali­tion — Ara­bic for Le­vant Lib­er­a­tion Com­mit­tee, also known as HTS — with be­tween 7,000 and 11,000 fighters, in­clud­ing sev­eral thou­sand for­eign­ers, the ex­perts said.

The group is en­trenched and able to make money in its strong­hold in Idlib prov­ince, they said. But since the re­port was writ­ten, Idlib has come un­der in­tense at­tack by Syr­ian gov­ern­ment forces.

Ac­cord­ing to the as­sess­ment of UN mem­ber states, the ex­perts said alqaida also “re­mains a se­ri­ous threat within the Ara­bian penin­sula,” plot­ting at­tacks in the wider Mid­dle East as well in­clud­ing a July 2017 plot tar­get­ing Jor­dan that was planned in Ye­men and dis­rupted.

The ex­perts said Al-qaida in the Ara­bian Penin­sula is play­ing a lead­ing role in al-qaida’s pro­pa­ganda and com­mu­ni­ca­tions ac­tiv­i­ties.

In West Africa, the ex­perts said mem­ber states high­lighted that the threat from groups re­lated to al-qaida and the Is­lamic State con­tin­ues to spread through Mali as well as neigh­bor­ing coun­tries.

Over the course of 2017, they said, most “ter­ror­ist en­ti­ties” op­er­at­ing in the Sa­hel re­gion es­tab­lished for­mal links with ei­ther IS or al-qaida. “How­ever, to date, no ri­valry be­tween the var­i­ous groups has been ob­served,” the ex­perts said.

In East Africa, they said the alqaida af­fil­i­ate al-shabab “re­mains re­silient and has sus­tained its dom­i­nance” over IS af­fil­i­ates in So­ma­lia. It also poses a greater threat than IS to the African Union peace­keep­ing force in the coun­try.

“In 2017, al-shabab pur­sued its goal of es­tab­lish­ing a pres­ence be­yond So­ma­lia and con­ducted op­er­a­tions seek­ing to set up bases in Kenya, Ethiopia and Dji­bouti,” the ex­perts said.

In Afghanistan, the ex­perts said, un­named gov­ern­ments high­lighted an in­crease in op­po­si­tion fighters, es­ti­mat­ing there could be as many as 60,000 fighters loyal to the Taliban com­bined with mem­bers of var­i­ous alqaida-af­fil­i­ated groups.

There are more than 20 groups ac­tive in the coun­try, with the Taliban the largest at about 40,000 to 45,000 fighters, the ex­perts said.

In South Asia, al-qaida af­fil­i­ates and Is­lamic State ex­trem­ists are tak­ing ad­van­tage of “the volatile se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in Afghanistan,” the ex­perts said.

Is­lamic State losses in Iraq and Syria also are rais­ing “the threat to South­east Asia, as its funds and fighters are scat­tered around the world,” the re­port said. The re­gion has seen “a marked in­crease in ter­ror­ist at­tacks” in re­cent years, with at least 10 Isin­spired at­tacks in In­done­sia alone in the first half of 2017, it said.

Since IS lost its strongholds, its pro­pa­ganda ma­chin­ery “is fur­ther de­cen­tral­is­ing and the qual­ity of its ma­te­rial con­tin­ues to de­cline,” the ex­perts said. None­the­less, they added, IS fighters, sup­port­ers and sym­pa­this­ers still use so­cial me­dia, en­cryp­tion tech­nol­ogy and the dark web to com­mu­ni­cate with each other “and mo­ti­vate and fa­cil­i­tate at­tacks.”

IS also con­tin­ues to move funds across the Mid­dle East us­ing “hawala” money trans­fer net­works and cash couri­ers, and it is “pen­e­trat­ing le­git­i­mate busi­nesses in the re­gion by us­ing seem­ingly un­con­nected or ‘clean’ in­di­vid­u­als with ac­cess to the fi­nan­cial sys­tem as fronts,” the re­port said. – AP

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