Al-Qaida sees Afghanistan as safe haven for its leadership: UN Monitoring Team
Terror group Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) that backs Al Qaida still has its strongholds in Afghanistan where near about 2,500 to 4,000 militants are positioned in eastern provinces of Nangarhar, Kunar, Nuristan and Laghman, and Al-Qaida continues to see Afghanistan as a safe haven for its leadership, the United Nations appointed Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team said in its latest report.
Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team keeps an eye on the progress of UN Resolution 2368 (2017) concerning ISIL (Da'esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals and entities by member countries.
The Monitoring Team in its 23rd report submitted to UN Secretary General on January 15 said that Al-Qaida continues to see Afghanistan as a safe haven for its leadership, based on its long-standing, strong ties with the Taliban and it is seeking to strengthen its presence in Badakhshan province, especially in Shighnan district, which shares a border with Tajikistan.
It added that "Aiman al-Zawahiri, Hamza bin Laden and the Taliban leadership have repeatedly, in public statements, emphasized the importance of the alliance between Al-Qaida and the Taliban... Al-Qaida is eager to expand its presence in Barmal district in Paktika province. The Haqqani Network maintains close ties with Al-Qaida.
Al-Qaida members act as instructors and religious teachers for Taliban personnel and their family members," the report said.
According to the report ISIL is also reported to be controlling some training camps in Afghanistan and to have created a network of cells in various Afghan cities, including Kabul.
The report comes close to the time when United States of America announced to pull out half of its troops from parts of Afghanistan if a peace deal is signed with Taliban. However, findings of this report raise a question mark on the security scenario of the Central and South Asian region after US-led NATO troops pull out takes place from February onwards.
In its report, the Monitoring Team said that globally ISIL and its affiliates continue to pose the main and best-resourced international terrorist threat, while Al-Qaida remains resilient and active in many regions and retains the ambition to project itself more internationally.
Report found that foreign terrorist fighter issue remains acute, although the flow of returnees and relocators from the ISIL core has been slower than expected. According to Member States,
there are approximately 500 foreign terrorist fighters in Badakhshan Province who are from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, the North Caucasus and Pakistan, these fighters reportedly operate under the umbrella of the Taliban.
It has been found that due to crackdown by security forces, the primary activities of ISIL in Afghanistan is centred around a series of high-profile attacks, including in Kabul.
ISIL targets have included North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military personnel, the Afghan army and police, officers of the Afghan special services, the Taliban, diplomats, employees of the UN and NGOs, journalists, medical institutions, as well as religious minorities.
Elaborating on the kind of cadre these terror groups have, the report said that the role of teens and women in attacks or attempted attacks in the region appears to be evolving, with ISIL initially discouraging the involvement of women but more recently inviting their direct participation (the Surabaya attacks of May 2018 included mothers who acted as suicide bombers).
Report said that several countries have noted that teenagers are increasingly vulnerable to recruitment and, whereas at one time that may have been as passive supporters, they have more recently been found to be involved in planning attacks and manufacturing improvised explosive devices.
One Indonesian foreign terrorist fighter recently killed in the Syrian Arab Republic was 5 years old at the time his father helped carry out the 2002 Bali hotel bombing, the report said.
With regard to ISIL's finances, the Monitoring Team found that ISIL financial reserves are estimated to be between $50 million and $300 million and the main sources of revenue generation include extortion, kidnapping for ransom and other criminal activity.
It was found that although ISIL no longer extracts and sells significant quantities of oil, the group is able to extort payments when oil and other goods are transported to areas where it can project its power.
The Monitoring Team found that ISIL cells are increasingly expected to be self-sustaining and individual ISIL members are instructed to self-finance attacks, using funds provided by family members, the proceeds of petty crime and even school loans.
Former ISIL members have reported that the group retains access to financial expertise and continues to exploit cadres of computer-savvy members. The informal financial sector, in particular unregistered money-service businesses, remains the most prevalent means of initiating funds transfers involving ISIL and Al-Qaida. Gold exchanges are also reported to be a source of illicit funding flows to ISIL and Al-Qaida.
Talking about technology and role of internet in promoting terrorism and radicalisation, the report said that South-East Asia has some of the world's largest numbers of internet users and countries had cited difficulties with social media platforms not responding quickly enough to content promoting violent extremism, or with features on certain platforms that frustrated efforts by government authorities to identify and remove such content.
"States have observed a shift away from platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Google to software and apps such as Telegram and Wickr, which allow for encrypted communications and/or messages that automatically disappear after a period of time.
Member States report that the self-radicalization of individuals online remains a significant challenge," the report said.
The report said that threats from unmanned aerial systems used in terrorism are likely to increase owing to the exponential rise in the number of drones purchased by hobbyists and the decreasing cost of the technology, making countering the threat costlier and more difficult.
With regard to litigations relating to individuals and entities on the Sanctions List, the Monitoring Team found that there has been no change to the state of affairs during the reporting period in several countries.
For instance, in Pakistan the petition by the Al Rashid Trust over sanctions against it remains pending in the Supreme Court and a similar challenge brought by Al-Akhtar Trust International remains pending before a provincial High Court in Pakistan.
In addition to these two cases, a trustee of Pakistan Relief Foundation (listed as an alias of Al-Akhtar Trust International) has challenged the freezing of his bank account.
Al Rashid Trust was listed on 6 October 2001 by the UNSC for funding Al-Qaida and its chief Osama bin Laden and Taliban to carry out terror attacks. According to UN, Al Rashid Trust was a financial facilitator of Al-Qaida-related terrorist groups with operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan, including Jaish-e-Mohammed.
The Trust also had links to militants in Kosovo. As per UNSC, the aid organization of the Ulema, also headquartered in Pakistan, was identified in 2002 as the successor organization of Al Rashid Trust. It had been raising funds for the Taliban since 1999, and officers of the organisation were representatives and key leaders of Al-Qaida.
In 2003, a senior Al-Qaida member admitted that Al Rashid Trust and Al-Akhtar Trust International were the primary relief agencies that Al-Qaida used to move supplies into Kandahar, Afghanistan.
While Pakistan has not banned these trusts, it had frozen its accounts following the UN Sanctions fearing backlash. Both Al Rashid Trust and Al-Akhtar Trust have approached court challenging the action by Pakistan government.