UN calls for unified focus on global terror amid COVID-19 distractions

In a video conference on UN Web TV, Wednesday, Vladimir Voronkov, head of the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT), called on Member States to stay focused on countering global terror.

He said the pandemic’s socio-economic effects could set the conditions for individuals to be receptive to radicalization and recruitment. His statements paralleled findings in the 2020 Global Terrorism Index (GTI) report issued by the Institute of Economics and Peace, which highlighted the scale and impact of terrorism worldwide, identifying future terrorism trends and threats.

Mr. Voronkov spoke on the issue of porous borders, where terrorists could easily exploit the lack of checks in place, groups organizing in small cells, making it more difficult to track, and underscored the need to fight terrorists in cyberspace.

Mr. Voronkov’s points were mirrored in the 2020 GTI report.

Despite the number of deaths from terror-related incidents dropping 59 percent since 2014, the spread of ISIL affiliate groups in sub-Saharan Africa and the emergence of far-right terrorism in Western Europe and North America are trending upward.

Most notably, 41 percent of total ISIL-related attacks in 2019 took place in sub-Saharan Africa, outlining the shift in ISIL-related activity away from the Middle East. The GTI placed Afghanistan, Iraq, and Nigeria as the top three countries in the world most impacted by terrorism.

And while Boko Haram is behind the majority of terror attacks in West Africa, it should be noted that the head of the Nigerian militant group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, in 2015, and has since been linked to receiving support to carry out attacks. 

Terrorism-related deaths attributed to Boko Haram increased by 46 percent in Niger, Cameroon, and Nigeria in 2019 compared to the previous year. The counter-terrorism response by the Multinational Joint Task Forces (MNJTF) and the Nigerian military fell short, leaving the terror group with safe havens in parts of northeast Nigeria and on islands in Lake Chad, successfully carrying out attacks and blocking humanitarian aid.

The past year’s response is an example of the gaps in global support and appropriately forceful counter-measures to stop Boko Haram in West Africa and from allowing more ISIL-related groups to gain strength and numbers in Africa.“We must urgently solve the protracted issue of ISIS members–lest our failure enables the group’s resurgence,” Mr. Vladimir Voronkov said, confirming that through the Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact, the UN will “stand by the Member States as they rise to these challenges.” (edited) 

Kristi Pelzel is a Senior White House correspondent for Today News Africa in Washington D.C. Kristi also covers the US Department of State and the United Nations. She holds a master's degree from Georgetown University.

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