UNODC launches a project for West and North African countries to counter the use of the Internet for terrorism purposes

In February 2019, UNODC launched a new project to strengthen the capacities of ten West and North African countries (namely Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Senegal, and Tunisia) to counter the use of the Internet for terrorism purposes. The project is funded by the Government of the People's Republic of China.

This project is the first of its kind for the Sahel and North African countries. In each participating country the project promotes exchanges on the threats, challenges and needs related to the fight against the use of the Internet for terrorism purposes. It assists national authorities in analyzing their level of preparedness, identifying the challenges and gaps to be addressed in order to effectively deal with this threat, in particular from the criminal justice perspective.

The first workshop of the project, organized in close collaboration with the African Union, was held on 18-20 February 2019 in Dakar. It was followed by three other national workshops organized respectively in Niger on 20-22 March 2019, in Chad on 3-5 April 2019 and in Mali on 16-18 April 2019. Each of these workshops brought together officials from the national criminal justice system, the intelligence services, the national telecommunications authorities, as well as representatives of private sector Internet service providers.

Internet is being increasingly used by terrorist and violent extremist groups due to its ease of access and anonymity. However, the criminal justice system and other authorities continue to face significant challenges in the detection and prosecution of terrorist acts committed through the use of Internet. This is mainly due to a lack of technical capacity, shortcomings in the coordination among the various actors, as well as legislative gaps.

At the end of the workshop in Niamey a Judge from the counter-terrorism court ( Pôle judiciaire anti-terroriste) noted that ''the workshop opened my eyes to the real threats related to the use of the Internet for terrorist purposes. Criminal justice actors must pay a serious attention to this aspect of terrorism in view of the threats associated with it." A representative of a private Internet service provider in turn welcomed the organization of the workshop in Chad, stating that he "welcomed the involvement of [his] institution in this activity because it helped to discuss opportunities for collaboration between national authorities and the private sector. This will go a long way in contributing to the efforts aimed at countering terrorism online."

National workshops for other countries covered under the project, as well as two regional workshops aiming at promoting sharing of best practices and lessons learned, will take place in the second half of 2019.