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The recently published report by the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team of the United Nations Security Council said that despite the loss in 2019 of the territory it controlled, the so-called Islamic State has begun to reassert itself in Syria and Iraq.
It said that Islamic State has been mounting increasingly bold insurgent attacks, calling and planning for the breakout of its fighters from detention facilities and exploiting weaknesses in the security environment of both countries.
“ISIL [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant] was forced into a change of leadership with the death of [its leader] Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. It is unclear whether Baghdadi’s named successor, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, will emerge as an effective organising force, capable of leading the diverse group of supporters and affiliates,” the report said.
“The current assessment is that the strategic direction of ISIL with regard to administration, propaganda and recruitment is unchanged, and that command and control between the ISIL core in the conflict zone and affiliates abroad will be maintained,” it added.
According to the report, the reduction of US forces in the region has raised concerns among UN member states regarding the ability of security forces currently active in the north-east of Syria to maintain adequate control over detained Islamic State fighters, as well as their family members, who number more than 100,000.
“Many dependants remain equally ideologically committed and their fate is a major concern for the international community. Some 2,000 foreign terrorist fighters remain in detention in the area,” the report warned.
It is estimated that several dozen Bosnian men are still being held in detention facilities in Syria.
The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina has so far handed down second-instance verdicts in 17 cases, sentencing 26 people to a total of more than 50 years in prison for fighting in Syria.
A group of men who were deported to Bosnia and Herzegovina from a detention facility in Syria in December 2019 have been remanded in custody. They are facing possible terrorism charges.
The UN report indicates that Idlib Province, in the north-west of Syria, remains dominated by groups affiliated with Al-Qaida, but also plays host to relocated Islamic State fighters and their dependants.
Parts of Iraq, particularly the area of Anbar Province bordering Syria, also represent a permissive security environment for the movement of Islamic State fighters, the report said.
Threats from Al-Qaida and Islamic State affiliates persist globally, particularly in Afghanistan and its immediate neighbourhood, but also in parts of Africa and South-East Asia, posing threats to security of those states and contributing to insurgent attacks in some countries.
“Other threats from ISIL, Al-Qaida and their ideology continue to challenge governments, and include issues related to the potential return of women and children from the conflict zone, the effective prosecution of returned fighters, prison radicalisation and a wave of pending releases from prisons in Europe,” the report added.
It noted that fighters who were sent back to their home countries and given short prison sentences from 2015 onwards are expected to be released soon.
The UN report also raised concerns that people who finance militant groups can still manage to evade detection despite increasingly sophisticated tools designed to identify and stop transactions with suspected links to terrorism.