Reinforcing International Cooperation in the MENA region to address returning and relocating Foreign Terrorist Fighters

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08th July 2018

The phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) has resulted in a large number of fighters leaving their homes to join terrorist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da'esh). States have been facing many challenges to deter FTFs, particularly their returnees who have abandoned conflict zones to return to their country of origin. Consequently, effective measures must be taken through international cooperation to counter the risks stemming from their return.

Countering the threats of FTFs relocators and returnees can be extremely challenging, thus working with international institutions is essential in strengthening states' capacities to effectively address and combat such threats.

For that goal, the Terrorism Prevention Branch of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's (UNODC/TPB) conducted a regional workshop under its Global Initiative on Strengthening the Legal Regime against Foreign Terrorist Fighters in Middle East, North Africa and South-East Europe (2015-2020), generously funded by the European Union on "Strengthening Regional and International Cooperation to Counter the Threat of Returning FTFs" in Alexandria, Egypt on 3-5 July 2018. The workshop addressed the issue of returning and relocating FTFs with law enforcement agencies, specialised judges, and experts from ministries of justice and foreign affairs and discussing challenges and presenting best practices.

The workshop commenced with UNODC/TPB speakers highlighting TPB's efforts for enhancing the criminal justice response to terrorism threats in the MENA region. In this respect, the regional initiative for creating a Multi-Agency Task Force (MATF) of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region which aims to reinforce international and inter-institutional cooperation in terrorism matters and tools that have been tailored-made to meet the needs of each country in the MENA region in accordance with the international legal framework against terrorism and FTF-related United Nations Security Council resolutions were presented.

National and international experts intervened throughout the workshop' sessions tackling international cooperation in criminal matters to prevent the threat of FTF relocators and returnees, the judicial response to protect victims and witnesses at the International Criminal Court, as well as the criminal justice response to relocating returnees.

Moreover, representatives of Europol and INTERPOL presented available tools and technical assistance to support Member States in their efforts to counter this phenomenon.

In addition, counter-terrorism police experts from the United Kingdom and Portugal shared their challenges and good practices in countering cross-border terrorism and presenting policing strategies for dealing with returning FTFs. In the same way, participants from the MENA countries (Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, Morocco, Iraq, Jordan, Algeria, Yemen and Libya) shared their national perspectives in terms of challenges related to information sharing, collection of evidence, and investigation of FTFs cases. The workshop sessions also covered the challenges related to trials and acts amounting to international and terrorist crimes committed by ISIL/Da'esh. Also, issues relating to prevent financing of FTFs returnees and relocators was explained by representative of the Egyptian Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Combating Unit.

Thorough exchange of information and expertise between attendees took place concerning promoting regional and international cooperation. Overall, participants were keen to provide valuable information with regards to national responses in countering the threat of FTFs.

Cooperation between international institutions will be of remarkable importance to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal that aims to enhance global partnerships for sustainable development.