UN official: terrorists use pandemic to stoke extremism

UNITED NATIONS (PA) – The UN counterterrorism chief warned on Tuesday that terrorists were exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic and appealing to new “violent extremist groups with racial, ethnic and political motivation.”

Vladimir Voronkov spoke at the UN Security Council’s 20th anniversary commemoration of the key counterterrorism resolution adopted after the September 11 attacks on the United States – and six days after a violent assault against the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

He said that over the past two decades, “the threat of terrorism has persisted, evolved and spread”.

Al-Qaida, which was responsible for the September 11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in 90 countries, is still showing resilience despite the loss of many leaders, Voronkov said. The extremist Islamic State group, which has lost its self-proclaimed caliphate in Iraq and Syria, continues to carry out attacks in both countries “and seeks to rebuild a capacity for external operations.”

Voronkov, who heads the United Nations Counterterrorism Office, said terrorists have sought to exploit the COVID-19 crisis, “riding the peaks of polarization and hate speech amplified by the pandemic.”

Terrorists quickly adapted to the exploitation of cyberspace and new technologies, forging links with organized crime figures and finding regulatory, human and technical loopholes in countries, he said.

“Their tactics appeal to new groups across the ideological spectrum, including violent extremist groups with racial, ethnic and political motivation,” Voronkov said.

UN Under-Secretary-General Michele Coninsx called the Security Council’s adoption of the US-sponsored counterterrorism resolution on September 28, 2001, “a pivotal moment when the Council and the international community have recognized the seriousness of the threat posed by transnational terrorism. “

The resolution ordered all countries to criminalize the financing of terrorist acts and to ban recruitment, travel and shelters for anyone involved.

It also created a counter-terrorism committee to monitor the implementation of the resolution. Coninsx heads the executive leadership of the committee, which was established in 2004 to assess how the 193 UN member countries are implementing counterterrorism measures, recommend ways to close gaps, facilitate assistance technique and analyze trends in the fight against terrorism.

In recent years, Coninsx said, ISIS affiliates have appeared in many places, including South Asia, Southeast Asia and several parts of Africa – the Sahel, the Lake Chad Basin. and the south and east of the continent.

“The proliferation of far-right terrorism is also a source of growing concern,” she said, adding that this included racially and ethnically motivated violence.

UK Foreign Minister James Cleverly called for more attention to “terrorist abuse of social media and other new technologies” and the long-term impact of COVID- 19 on “the dynamics of terrorism”.

Specifically, Estonian Defense Minister Juri Luik warned: “We are facing new and complex security challenges such as cyber and hybrid threats and capabilities such as drones which increase the real threat of terrorists against civilian populations and our men and women in operations and missions around the world. “

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney praised the committee’s efforts to assess the impact of the pandemic and stressed that “addressing the evolving threat of violent extremism and politically motivated terrorism, in particular the increasing number of far-right attacks, is part of our responsibility, too. “

Deputy US Ambassador Richard Mills made no mention of the attack on Capitol Hill, but said that “the United States takes the threat of racially or ethnically motivated terrorist attacks very seriously, and we continue to take measures to combat this particular form of terrorism. ”

“Last year, for the first time, the State Department designated a white supremacist group as a specially designated global terrorist,” he said.

Mills also weighed in on the dispute between Western Council members and Russia and China over the importance of human rights in the fight against terrorism.

It started with Britain cleverly citing China’s “harsh and disproportionate measures” against minority Muslim Uyghurs as an example of counterterrorism measures being used “to justify serious human rights violations. and oppression ”.

He said Beijing’s detention of 1.8 million people in Xinjiang without trial and other well-documented measures violates China’s obligations under international human rights law and the United Nations. ‘Security Council demand that counterterrorism measures respect these obligations.

Chinese Ambassador Zhang Jun dismissed Cleverly’s remarks as “baseless attacks”, calling them “purely politically motivated” without any factual basis.

“As a victim of terrorism, China has taken resolute steps to firmly combat terrorism and extremism,” Zhang said. “Our action is reasonable, based on the law and in accordance with the practice in force in the countries of the region.” He added that his actions protect the rights of minorities.

Without naming China, Mills said the United States “will continue to oppose the actions of certain countries to engage in the mass detention of religious minorities and members of other minorities, engage in repressive surveillance and massive data collection, and use coercive population control as well as forced population control. sterilization and abortion. “

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia called the terrorist threat one of the “greatest challenges of today”. But he said that the operations of the Security Council and its counterterrorism committee paid “particular attention to the rights aspects of the fight against terrorism to the detriment of priority tasks related to security”.

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