U.N. Undersecretary-General for Counter-Terrorism Vladimir Voronkov said on Thursday that the Islamic State (ISIS) remains a serious threat, with a “particularly worrying” show of growing strength in Africa’s conflict zones.
Voronkov said ISIS is using “new and emerging technologies” such as surveillance drones and online financial instruments to remain a potent threat, even after its defeat in Iraq and Syria five years ago and the death of its founder, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in a raid ordered by former President Trump in 2019.
Voronkov and the head of the U.N. Security Council’s counterterrorism directorate, Weixiong Chen, made paradoxical points that letting ISIS fighters return to their home countries is spreading the Islamic State’s toxic Islamist ideology and creating terrorist threats everywhere those battlefield-seasoned operatives settle down – but also, keeping ISIS fighters locked up in Iraqi and Syrian prison camps is further radicalizing them and giving the resurgent Islamic State a rich pool of embittered prisoners to recruit from.
Chen warned that ISIS has grown very adept at exploiting “local fragilities and intercommunal tensions,” techniques that have helped the terrorist organization build its strength in Africa quickly, as it plays on local political instability and long-standing tribal feuds.
As for its financial situation, Chen said the Islamic State is raising money through its time-tested methods of “extortion, looting, smuggling, taxation, soliciting donations and kidnapping for ransom.”
ISIS is also increasingly skilled at using various forms of social media and online financial instruments. In September, ISIS created its first known non-fungible token (NFT), a digital “trading card” that praised Islamic State jihadis for pulling off an attack in Afghanistan. ISIS operatives have infiltrated popular video game platforms to spread their ideology and recruit new members.
The Islamic State found fertile ground in Africa to rebuild its strength after its defeat in the Middle East. An exceptionally well-funded splinter group known as the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) grew out of the notorious Boko Haram gang in Nigeria to become a major regional threat.
ISIS is reportedly attempting to forge alliances with other major regional terrorist groups and criminal gangs, an effort that could quickly make ISIS even more of a threat if it succeeds.