Reinforcing international cooperation in the MENA region to address returning and relocating foreign terrorist fighters

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). Member 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.

Management of FTFs can be extremely challenging, and thus working with international institutions is essential in strengthening states' capacities to effectively address and combat the threat posed by returnees.

In this regard, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's Terrorism Prevention Branch (UNODC/TPB) conducted a 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 co-funded by the European Union. UNODC/TPB organised a workshop on strengthening regional and international cooperation to counter the threat of returning FTFs in Alexandria, Egypt on 3-5 July 2018. The workshop aimed to address the issue of returning and relocating FTFs with law enforcement agencies, specialised judges, and experts from ministries of justice and foreign affairs.

The workshop commenced with UNODC/TPB speakers highlighting TPB's efforts in the MENA region, with specific regard to the Multi-Agency Task Force (MATF) of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region which aims to reinforce international and inter-institutional cooperation in terrorist cases. The speakers also briefed participants of TPB's efforts in developing tools that are tailored to 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. e, the Police Sector, and the Institute for Execution of Criminal Sanctions, discussed challenges and exchanged best practices on the subject.

Several topics were presented throughout the workshop including on international cooperation in criminal matters to prevent the threat of FTF relocators and returnees, discussions about the judicial response to protection of victims and witnesses at the International Criminal Court, as well as the criminal justice response to relocating returnees. Moreover, Europol and INTERPOL analysts presented their respective criminal analysis tools and elaborated on their role in locating returning and relocating FTFs at both national and international level.

In addition, counter-terrorism experts from the United Kingdom and International Police Cooperation in Portugal shared their challenges and good practices in countering cross-border terrorism and presenting policing strategies of returning FTFs. At the same time, participants from the MENA as well as MATF founding countries (Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia and Yemen) 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 of international, terrorist and ISIL/Da'esh crimes.

Exchange of information between attendees was particularly relevant and important in terms of sharing professional expertise related to regional and international cooperation. In this regard, a representative of the Egyptian Financial Investigation Unit presented their role in countering financing of FTFs. 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.