UN chief: IS on defensive in conflict areas but is adapting

AP News
Posted: Feb 06, 2017 6:34 PM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Islamic State extremist group is militarily on the defensive in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria but is partially adapting by moving to covert communications and recruitment and expanding its areas of attack away from conflict areas, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a new report.

The threat of attacks on airports and aircraft "remains high," he said. The militant group, also known as IS and ISIL, continues to encourage its supporters outside conflict zones to perpetrate attacks "using links to existing local cells," he added.

The report to the U.N. Security Council, which was circulated Monday, said member states highlighted that internal communications and recruitment by IS "are increasingly moving towards more covert methods, such as the use of the dark web, encryption and messengers."

Nonetheless, Guterres said, the military campaigns against IS are having a major impact. IS has lost "large numbers of fighters and territory," which "together with the group's deteriorating financial situation have considerably reduced its draw for foreign terrorist fighters," he said.

Guterres said U.N. member states emphasized that the flow of would-be foreign fighters to Iraq and Syria has also "slowed considerably" due to increased controls put in place by various governments. Recruitment is down as well and IS fighters are increasingly leaving the battlefield, he said.

As for finances, the militant group is now operating on a "crisis" budget, Guterres said, but its revenue streams remain the same — oil and gas, extortion and "taxation," which together account for up to 80 percent of its income. The U.N. Mission in Iraq estimates that IS earned approximately $260 million from oil sales last year, mainly from oil fields in Syria's Deir el-Zour province, Guterres said. That is about half the 2015 estimate of up to $500 million, he said.

Looking at Europe, Guterres said member states currently assess "that the threat of large-scale attacks remains." One unidentified country noted that not all IS operatives sent to Europe to carry out last year's attacks in Paris and Brussels have been identified and arrested, he said.

In Libya, a military offensive routed IS from the city of Sirte, one of its most important strongholds outside Iraq and Syria, which reduced the group's resources and "operational space," Guterres said. But IS fighters have moved to other parts of Libya, and their numbers are estimated by member states as ranging between several hundred to as many as 3,000.

IS has also increased its presence in West Africa and the Sahel, Guterres said, citing recent IS-related attacks in Niger and Burkina Faso.

The Security Council in December called on all 193 U.N. member states to consider establishing laws and "mechanisms" to address "the gravity of the threat" posted by IS and to work on sharing intelligence, biometric and biographical data and financial information in coordinating a "robust response."

Guterres, a former U.N. refugee chief, also stressed that "the vast majority of refugees, both in Europe and globally, have no connection to terrorism and have fled their states of origin to escape persecution."

"Nevertheless, there have been isolated incidents in which persons who have sought, or been granted, asylum in Europe have subsequently been implicated in successful or foiled terrorist attacks," he said. "The Security Council has repeatedly called upon member states to take measures to ensure that terrorists do not misuse asylum procedures, and to do so in a manner consistent with international refugee and human rights law."