Turkey continues to be an important transit hub for foreign terrorists and jihadists and a safe haven for Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) affiliated groups across the region as well as for women escaping from camps in Syria, a UN report revealed.
The UN monitoring team is set up to support the ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee in accordance with UNSC resolutions 1526 (2004) and 2253 (2015).
The twenty-sixth report of the United Nations’ Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team regarding ISIL, al-Qaeda and associated individuals and entities was submitted to the UN Security Council (UNSC) in July 2020.
The report (para 62) underlined that terrorist groups operating under the umbrella of the Taliban and aligning with ISIL-K in Afghanistan are planning to reach Turkey to join the local pro-ISIL Central Asian diaspora.
“The death of Abdukholik, the head of the Uzbek fighters in ISIL-K, in January 2020, contributed to the departure of some of the Uzbek component of the group, in particular family members. One group of Central Asian fighters went to Faryab Province, where they joined the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) (QDe.010). Another reportedly travelled to Kabul Province, planning to leave Afghanistan via the Islamic Republic of Iran for Turkey to join the local pro-ISIL Central Asian diaspora,” the report stated.
According to the UN document, a steady stream of ISIL-affiliated women are reported to have escaped the camps, located in Idlib, into Turkey with the aid of corrupt guards and smugglers (14th para); and members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) who are currently located in the Jisr al-Shughur area of Idlib are seeking to transit through Turkey and Iran to the northern provinces of Afghanistan to join the ETIM affiliate there (19th para). Jisr al-Shughur is currently controlled by Turkish forces.
“The group [ETIM] conducts joint operations with other armed groups, under the umbrella of HTS [Hayat Tahrir al-Sham],” the report said. HTS is the latest incarnation of the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, and controls between 8,000 and 10,000 fighters in Syria.
ETIM was recently removed from Washington’s terror list. “ETIM was removed from the list because, for more than a decade, there has been no credible evidence that ETIM continues to exist,” a State Department spokesperson said, AFP reported.
The UN document also focused on HTS’s financial sources and claimed that the Turkish border region generates a significant amount to fund its activities. “Through its control of territory and commercial routes, HTS raises approximately $13 million per month. Most of those funds come from the taxation of businesses, public utilities and customs and tolls gathered from crossings over the Turkish border and internal Syrian lines of control. The Bab al-Hawa crossing is reported to generate $4 million for HTS every month,” the report stated.
The transfer and deployment of Syrian fighters to Libya through Turkey was recorded by the UN report. “Several Member States also expressed concerns over an estimated 7,000 to 15,000 fighters brought in from the north-west Syrian Arab Republic to Tripoli, via Turkey, to take part in the Libyan conflict,” the 30th paragraph of the UN report said.
In June UN rapporteurs had sent a joint letter to the Turkish government seeking further information about its role in the recruitment, financing, transportation and deployment of Syrian fighters to Libya. According to the allegations underlined in the letter, Turkey effectively deployed mercenaries to an armed conflict in Libya by recruiting, deploying and paying fighters, including children, from several Syrian armed groups to take part in military operations in Tripoli.
The UN Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team currently comprises 10 experts based in New York, and its mandate was extended by paragraph 94 of UNSC Resolution 2368 (2017) until December 2021. The monitoring team also assists the 1988 Committee of the UNSC.
According to its mandate, the monitoring team studies and reports to the sanction committee on “the changing nature of the threat posed by ISIL, Al-Qaida, al-Nusrah Front, Boko Haram and the Taliban, and the best measures to confront it.”
UN Security Council Resolution 2368 (2017) imposes targeted sanctions on individuals, groups, undertakings and entities designated on the ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions List. In accordance with paragraph 55 of the resolution, the sanction committee makes accessible a narrative summary of reasons for listing.
The UN report indicated that the monitoring team conducted 12 country and technical visits and held two regional meetings, one for member states in the western Balkans and another for member states in the Nordic region, between January and June 2020.
Furthermore, the UN report claimed that terrorist groups including ISIL and al-Qaeda and their global affiliates continue to generate violence around the world, whether through insurgency tactics, the direction and facilitation of terrorism or providing the inspiration for attacks. According to the monitoring team, the number of ISIL attacks in Iraq and the Syria increased significantly in early 2020 as compared to the same period of 2019.
The UN document recalled the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on terrorism, saying “The pandemic has made crossborder travel more difficult and targets more elusive, and the operational tempo of attacks has slowed discernibly in some regions. Should the pandemic lead to a severe global recession, the international community may be faced with further headwinds in countering terrorism and extremist narratives.”