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Foreign fighters: UN warns of “enormous challenge”, Italy, focus on the Sahel, where instability contributes to terrorism

NEW YORK, NOVEMBER 28 – With violent extremists having suffered defeats in Syria and Iraq, the international community must step up cooperation to address the complex problem of foreign terrorist fighters returning home or travelling to other regions, the head of the United Nations Office against Terrorism, Vladimir Voronkov, told the Security Council on Tuesday.

Mr. Voronkov, the Under-Secretary-General of the recently-created UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, told the Council that at one time, more than 40,000 combatants from over 110 countries had joined terrorist groups fighting in Syria and Iraq. While travel measures implemented by countries and military victories against the so-called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or Daesh) have “significantly decreased” flows to the region, combatants have since tried to relocate to Libya, Yemen and Afghanistan – fuelling existing conflicts in these countries, Mr. Voronkov said. Meanwhile, some 5,600 fighters from 33 nations have returned home, many equipped to carry attacks out on their native soil, or drum up new recruits.

“Returning foreign terrorist fighters pose an enormous challenge with no easy solution,” Mr. Voronkov warned.

Speaking in his national capacity, the Un Permanent representative and president of the council for the month of November, Sebastiano Cardi agreed that the international community is still looking for an effective way to properly address the challenge. “Our commitment on counter-terrorism must be extended far and wide, including in the Sahel, where instability contributes to the spread of violence and terrorism”, he said.

According to Voronkov, “a tempting response, and certainly the easiest one, would to be throw all returnees into prison […] But full compliance with international law is vital to combat the threat of foreign terrorist fighters.”

At the same time, Cardi said, the lack of adequate information-sharing mechanisms further hinders Countries’ efforts to assess and mitigate the threat. “In this regard, it remains crucial for Member States to enhance their cooperation within and between public sector agencies, both domestically and internationally and to empower financial intelligence units, law enforcement and intelligence services to improve the exchange of relevant information in a timely manner”.

Effective border police measures as well as spreading capacity building on terrorist financing investigations are particularly key in this regard. Italy already provided advanced training to foreign officers dealing with counter-terrorism and is also committed to providing judicial and law enforcement international cooperation, in the framework of transnational investigations. (@OnuItalia)

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