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First-ever Interior Ministers meeting on foreign fighters at UN

In a first, the United Nations convened Interior Ministers last week to discuss a UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee report on foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs), focusing on the state of play in terms of both threat and international response.

Here’s the key paragraph in the report that encapsulates the threat:

More than half the countries in the world are currently generating foreign terrorist fighters. Among the various Al-Qaida…associates around the world, including the splinter group Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)…, there are more than 25,000 foreign terrorist fighters involved, travelling from more than 100 Member States. The rate of flow is higher than ever and mainly focused on movement into the Syrian Arab Republic and Iraq, with a growing problem also evident in Libya.

The report goes on to state that UN member states need to do more to meet the threat; and it prioritizes specific actions that can and should be taken:

The full implementation of preventive measures under Security Council resolution 2178 (2014) would be a major step forward. Intensified efforts with regard to prevention and returnee policies, including further work in relation to the Internet and social media, are crucial. So too is accelerating the establishment of operational information links between Member States, including in relation to persons of interest and passenger data.

Various speakers addressed the assembled group, reinforcing the point that more must be done to combat the FTF challenge. Among them, INTERPOL Secretary General Jurgen Stock, and US Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson; for their remarks (plus video) see here, here and here.

INTERPOL’s Secretary General noted the heightened risk of “‘cross-pollination’ among conflicts beyond Syria and Iraq” as more extremists “from Africa to southeast Asia are shifting their allegiance to the Islamic State group…”.

In turn, Secretary Johnson identified several FTF-related priorities for the United States: “improving border and aviation security, bolstering legal and prosecutorial capacity, improving information sharing, and addressing the underlying conditions conducive to terrorism and preventing the problem by countering violent extremism.“

He also referenced a new “screening and analysis system” that the United States plans to share worldwide, free of charge, with both government and private sector entities, to help further interdiction efforts:

Within the next twelve months, DHS, through our Customs and Border Protection component, will be developing a new passenger data screening and analysis system. This Global Travel Assessment System, or GTAS, will be made available at no cost to the international community – for both commercial and government organizations, to use, maintain, customize, and enhance as needed.

For additional analysis of the UN report and the associated meeting, see these pieces in Voice of America and the Daily Star.