Despite military pressure and falling revenue, ISIL is still capable of sending funds to supporters and motivating attacks in Europe and elsewhere, while Al Qaeda remains resilient especially in West Africa, East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, UN experts say.
Competition between the ISIL and Al Qaeda continues, the experts monitoring sanctions against the extremist groups said in a report released on Thursday, but "shifting alliances" among fighters "and co-operation on the tactical level in several regions also allow them to move between various groups".
The report to the UN Security Council said the extremist threat continued to rise in South-East Asia, where ISIL wants to establish a foothold. This can be seen from recent events in the southern Philippines, where the city of Marawi has been under siege by ISIL-linked militants for more than two months.
The "core" of ISIL is adapting to military pressure in Iraq and Syria by delegating decision-making responsibility to local commanders and switching to encrypted communications, the experts said.
Several countries have highlighted "the increasingly creative use of drones" by ISIL, primarily in Iraq and Syria. They say the group is developing the capability to design and construct larger drones which will increasingly enable it "to weaponise the drones, thereby increasing its ability to strike at a distance", according to the report.
ISIL "continues to send funds to its affiliates worldwide" and was likely to do so as long as it has the means. The group's leaders have also sent money to places where it does not have affiliates in an attempt to prepare for its eventual defeat in Iraq and Syria, according to an unidentified UN member state quoted in the report.
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The experts quoted several countries as saying ISIL fighters returning home generally fell into three categories: those disenchanted with the extremist group and terrorism as an ideology who could be deradicalised and reintegrated into society; a much smaller group of high-risk individuals who return with the aim of conducting terror attacks; and individuals who have cut ties with ISIL but "remain radicalised and are ready to join another terrorist group should the opportunity arise."
Assessing extremist trends by region, the report said that attacks in Europe in the first half of this year showed that "Europe remained a priority region" for ISIL. However, the group has not conducted an attack this year in which the ISIL "core" was involved in detailed planning and decision-making, sending fighters and providing financial resources, the report said. Some countries have reported "an increase in radicalisation and violent extremism" linked to ISIL networks in Europe.
In Iraq, several countries reported that key ISIL leaders had left Mosul prior to the attack by Iraqi forces supported by the US-led coalition. But ISIL's resistance in Mosul "indicates that its command and control structure has not broken down completely and that the group remains a significant military threat", the report said. In Syria, key ISIL members also left their stronghold of Raqqa ahead of an expected attack and air strikes.
The Arabian Peninsula faces "a significant threat" from Al Qaeda and ISIL in Yemen, the report said. It said a member state reported that more than 30 ISIL-related "terrorist plots" were disrupted in the region, including one in June targeting the Grand Mosque in Mecca, and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. It said the importance of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula for the militant group was demonstrated by a statement from Osama bin Laden's son, Hamza bin Laden, encouraging sympathisers to join Al Qaeda training camps in Yemen.
In North Africa, ISIL cells claimed several attacks in Libya in the first six months of 2017 following the extremist group's ouster from Sirte. The report quoted a member state estimating the number of ISIL fighters in Libya at between 400 and 700. In Tunisia, it said the threat from ISIL and Al Qaeda remained "a source of concern".
In West Africa, "Al Qaeda affiliates remain resilient and present a significant threat to Mali and, to a lesser extent, the Sahel region", the report said. According to member states, Al Qaeda-affiliated groups continued to attack military forces and had intelligence capabilities to monitor movements of security and military patrols "and conduct complex attacks".
The Al Qaeda affiliate Al Shabab, with approximately 6,000 to 9,000 members, posed terrorist threats in East Africa, as did ISIL affiliates operating in parts of southern Somalia and its semi-autonomous state of Puntland, the report said.
In Afghanistan, ISIL has intensified its competition with the Taliban and "aims to expand", although it has not yet established a "viable fighting force" there despite three years of recruitment efforts. The report said the Taliban continued to wield substantial influence over regional Al Qaeda affiliates. It quoted one member state saying there were more than 7,000 foreigners fighting for the Taliban and Al Qaeda affiliates in Afghanistan.
The situation in South-East Asia remains "precarious", the report said. While terrorist groups are believed to be ideologically divided over ISIL, its propaganda on its so-called "caliphate" has resonated with extremists in the region. At least seven attacks targeting Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines last year could be attributed to pro-ISIL militants, the report said.