Foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) continue to pose a major threat to international peace and security. In 2014, the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 2178 as a response to the increasing threat posed by FTFs, requiring Member States to implement criminal justice measures to effectively prevent, deter and criminalize the travel of FTFs and their related activities. Since then, there have been significant changes and developments related to the FTF phenomenon. As ISIL/Da’esh loses ground, Member States are concerned about returning and relocating FTFs and their families, as well as their search for new battlegrounds, technologies and modus operandi.
On 13-15 March 2021, UNODC conducted a regional event which officially concluded its Terrorism Prevention Branch’s (UNODC/TPB) five-year project on “Strengthening the Legal Regime against FTFs in the Middle East, North Africa and South-Eastern Europe” (2015-2021), funded by the European Union. Attended by the EU ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and opened by the Chief of UNODC/TPB , the event brought together 30 law enforcement and criminal justice officials from seven countries from the MENA region (Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia and the UAE).
“ISIL’s novel modus operandi represents a major and global threat as the organization is increasingly operating through small cells or lone actors. FTFs acquired unique combat skills in conflict zones and can facilitate recruitment, or even orchestrate attacks in their countries of origin, nationality or relocation.”—stated Mr. Masood Karimipour, Chief of UNODC/TPB, during the opening ceremony.
The event facilitated discussions between participants and experts on lessons learned, good practices and challenges all while examining the latest threats and findings concerning the FTF phenomenon.
One participant noted “this project’s training courses have not only provided expertise to Lebanese judges and security agencies, but have also increased cooperation between judiciary, security and military sectors, strengthening the relationship among these branches and raising the level of understanding and trust between them.”Another senior security official confirmed that “training on open source investigation techniques allowed our officers, and myself on a personal level, to acquire skills that help track and collect evidence on suspected FTFs coming in and out of Jordanian territory with tools and guidelines that were new to us.”
Participants who took stock of progress made throughout the project identified current technical assistance needs for legislative reform and follow-up training to adapt counterterrorism efforts to conduct remote trials and investigations.
“We are privileged to have such a strong partnership with our host country - the UAE - that kindly hosted and facilitated this regional event to discuss the topic of FTFs, that is not only a topic of concern to the distinguished guests representing MENA countries but for the entire world”, highlighted Mr. Hatem Aly, Representative the UNODC Regional Office for the Gulf Cooperation Council Region in his closing remarks. Mr. Aly conveyed the regards of H.E. Dr. Ghada Waly, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNODC Executive Director to the delegates for their participation in the event despite COVID-19 related complications, in addition to her support of the deliberations addressing the challenge of the FTF phenomenon. “We will be very much looking forward together with the UAE, the EU and other partner countries present today to push forward for the implementation of the recommendations of this valuable meeting”, the OGCCR Representative added further.
Furthermore, H.E. Mr. Andrea Matteo Fontana, EU Ambassador to the UAE, stated that “terrorism continues to threaten our security, the values of our democratic societies and the rights and freedoms of citizens. Fighting terrorism is a top priority for the EU and its Member States. Only through positive partnerships and collaboration can we best ensure a safer and more secure world. We are convinced that this is not optional: if we want to defeat terrorist threats, if we want to be safe, we need to work together. The global dimension of the threat turns the immense challenge into an opportunity to share lessons learned, experience and expertise but also develop a coordinated approach to cope with growing and ever-changing challenges related to FTFs.”
This event paved the way towards designing an action plan for further capacity-building assistance to continue supporting technical and legal capacity of countries in the MENA region to counter this ever-changing phenomenon and reinvigorate counterterrorism efforts within and across the region.