Beware lone wolves says UN’s counter-terrorism supremo

Despite considerable success in the ongoing global action to counter the terrorist threat over the past two decades, countries cannot afford to let down their guard, according to the United Nation’s counter-terrorism head.

Vladimir Voronkov, under-secretary-general of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Office, was speaking during told a virtual meeting of the Security Council this week.

In particular he warned against the threat from low cost, low-tech individuals.

“Terrorist activity has shown that we must remain extremely vigilant: the threat remains real and even direct for many states”, Voronkov said, speaking from New York.

He warned that the COVID-19 pandemic has only amplified the need for action, as terrorists take advantage of the crisis to exploit new technologies and links with organised crime groups.

“Terrorists have sought to exploit disruptions arising from COVID-19. They have sought to benefit from the setbacks to the development and human rights agendas, riding on the wavetops of polarisation and hate speech amplified by the pandemic,” he said.

“The threat has become even more difficult to prevent, with low-cost, low-tech attacks against soft targets by so called lone wolves.”

The UN Security Council convened the ministerial-level meeting to review global cooperation in combatting terrorism in the 20 years since members unanimously adopted a resolution following the September 11 attacks against the United States.

Resolution 1373 called for criminalising terrorism financing, and for greater information sharing by States, among other measures.

The Council has also established a Counter Terrorism Committee to monitor its implementation.

Michèle Coninsx, executive director of a special political mission that assists the Committee, also outlined how the terrorist threat has evolved during this period, which spans the “dramatic rise” of ISIL, or Daesh, in Iraq and Syria, and its subsequent territorial defeat.

She said its “destructive legacy” will continue to occupy the global agenda, as victims and survivors seek justice and countries work to address the problem of foreign terrorist fighters who associated themselves with the extremist Islamist group.

Meanwhile, ISIL affiliates have sprung up in other parts of the world, including in parts of Asia and Africa, and other challenges have emerged.

“The proliferation of extreme right-wing, or racially and ethnically motivated, terrorism is also a cause of increasing concern”, said Coninsx.

“And countering use of the Internet and other virtual platforms by terrorist groups for recruitment, financing, and planning purposes will also remain a priority, as will continued efforts to counter terrorism financing.”