Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS counters 'grave' extremist threat in Africa

Summit agrees to establish an Africa working group to 'curb the size of terrorist-related threats'

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) shakes hands with Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Luigi Di Maio, at the end of their joint press conference following a meeting of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State (IS) group, at the Fiera di Roma, in Rome, as part of Blinken's three-nation tour of Europe, on June 28, 2021.  / AFP / POOL / ANSA / ANGELO CARCONI
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The threat of ISIS in Africa is a “grave concern” that requires a global effort to overcome, foreign ministers in the global coalition to defeat the group said on Monday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also gave a warning that the 10,000 ISIS foreign fighters currently held in prisons in northern Syria could not be detained there indefinitely.

He called on the countries from which the terrorists originated to process the foreign fighters through their own judicial systems. This would include nations such as Britain and France, who witnessed hundreds of extremists leaving home to fight for ISIS.

"Ten thousand ISIS fighters remain in SDF [Syria Democratic Forces] detention in Syria," Mr Blinken said.

“This situation is simply untenable. It just can’t persist indefinitely. The US continues to urge countries of origin, including coalition partners, to repatriate, rehabilitate and, where applicable, prosecute their citizens.”

His words followed a meeting of senior politicians in Rome, after which they issued a communique announcing a united effort against ISIS.

While there was no firm commitment of troops or extra financing, the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS has now grown to almost 60 countries.

“What we have to do is to eradicate what's left of the terrorist group and very critically, as Italy has been emphasising, to prevent its emergence in places like Africa,” said Mr Blinken, who co-chaired the meeting.

His concerns were echoed Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, who said there was an “alarming phenomenon taking place on the African continent”, particularly in West Africa and Mozambique.

The summit agreed to establish an Africa working group to identify and “curb the size of terrorist-related threats” on the continent.

“We fear the expansion and spread of Daesh in Africa and therefore, at the ministerial meeting we invited some African countries that are not coalition members, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mozambique, for example, as observers,” said Mr Di Maio.

In the first in-person meeting of the coalition since 2019, their joint communiqué pledged determination both to prevent an ISIS resurgence in Iraq and Syria and to address “urgent security challenges” in Africa.

“We are firmly united in our outrage at atrocities perpetrated by Daesh/ISIS and in our determination to eliminate this global threat,” they said.

They added that the Africa terrorist groups were producing the “greatest volume of Daesh … toxic propaganda”.

The communique said that support would be given to African partners “upon their request and prior consent”.

The US said at the summit it was naming ISIS leader Ousmane Illiassou Djibo, also known as "Petit Chapori", as a specially designated global terrorist by executive order.

The Nigerian was described as a “close collaborator and key lieutenant” of the Sahel’s ISIS leader, Adnan Abu Walid Al Sahrawi.

Djibo was designated as a terrorist target after he developed a network to kidnap or attack westerners in Niger and surrounding areas.

Mr Blinken also announced that the US was providing an additional $436 million in aid to Syrians to address “the urgent humanitarian crisis” there, with millions “in dire need of food, medicine and Covid vaccines”.

He said that ministers would “refocus on a path to a lasting political solution in Syria” as that was only way to “provide the Syrian people with the foundation upon which to reconcile, make peace and begin to rebuild”.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the summit that Britain would pour an extra £12.6m ($17.5m) into tackling ISIS in Africa, including on efforts to help fighters leave the group.

The UK government highlighted concerns over the group's presence in West African nations, including Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad.

Mr Raab echoed Mr Blinken's warning over Syrian camps, saying the deteriorating situation represented a "growing threat to security".

"Let’s make no mistake, the threat from Daesh remains," Mr Raab said. "We must keep up the pressure on Daesh, wherever its poisonous influence spreads."

A ministerial meeting on Syria was attended by the governments of the US, Italy, Canada, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Iraq, Ireland, Japan, Jordan, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Norway, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the UAE, the UK, and representatives of the League of Arab States and EU.

The meeting agreed to support humanitarian efforts to address the crisis in the country.

"We welcomed UN special envoy Geir Pedersen’s briefing and reaffirmed strong support for UN-led efforts to implement all aspects of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, including continued support for an immediate nationwide ceasefire, the unimpeded and safe delivery of aid, and the Constitutional Committee, as well as fighting against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations," a statement said.

"Reaffirming the unity and territorial integrity of Syria, we remain committed to continue working actively to reach a credible, sustainable, and inclusive political solution based on Resolution 2254. This is the only solution that will bring an end to Syria’s decade long conflict and guarantee the security of the Syrian people and fulfil their aspirations."