President Obama wins broad UN backing on resolution to curb foreign fighters

President Obama presides over Security Council session that unanimously adopted a binding resolution that aims to 'degrade and destroy' terrorist access to funding and shut down the Islamic State's 'network of death.'

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
US President Obama chairs a meeting of the United Nations Security Council at UN headquarters, Wednesday. The president implored world leaders to rally behind his expanding military campaign to stamp out the violent Islamic State group and its 'network of death.'

Moving forward on what the United States called the most significant international counterterrorism measure since just after the 9/11 attacks, the UN Security Council adopted unanimously Wednesday a binding resolution requiring the UN’s 195 member countries to take steps to curb the flow and financial support of foreign terrorist fighters.

The action was taken as President Obama presided over the Security Council session – it was only the second time a US president had done so – and as several US government agencies announced measures they said were complementary to the international action Mr. Obama spearheaded at the UN.

Obama opened the packed meeting saying the resolution aimed to shut down the Islamic State’s “network of death,” as well as those feeding other terror groups. 

Heads of state from each of the council’s member countries voted 15 to 0 for the resolution, which asks nations to make it illegal for their citizens to travel to support the hard-line and violent extremist movement, to fund, or to recruit for it. Obama chaired the session, a rare move for an American president.

The measures taken by the US Treasury Department, the State Department, and the Department of Justice aimed to demonstrate two things: the kinds of actions other countries might take to join in the effort to curb foreign terrorist fighters and that the US would match its rhetoric with acts.

The resolution adopted by the 15-member council and co-signed by more than 110 countries animated an hours-long Security Council discussion on the global menace of international terrorism. It was a discussion made all the more poignant by news of the beheading in Algeria of a French citizen, Hervé Gourdel, by Islamist extremists pledging their allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) militant organization.

The terrorists, who released a video showing the Frenchman’s murder, had said in a video released Sunday that Mr. Gourdel would die, if France did not cease its actions against IS facilities in Iraq.

After casting France’s vote in favor of the Security Council resolution, a visibly stricken but determined French President François Hollande told reporters that the day’s “tragedy” had only reinforced the international community’s conviction that “the battle against terrorism must be carried out everywhere and at all levels.”

He noted that the Security Council had unanimously condemned the Gourdel killing, which followed the beheadings by IS of two American journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and British aid worker David Haines. 

US officials at the UN who lobbied for the foreign terrorist fighters resolution, including UN Ambassador Samantha Power, emphasized that international terrorism has evolved since the 9/11 attacks engineered by Al Qaeda, and that international counterterrorism efforts had to keep up with and address that evolution.

With international terrorism experts estimating that as many as 30,000 foreign fighters are now in Syria and Iraq, the threat those fighters pose is unprecedented, those experts say.

Not only are the foreign fighters proving to be among the most able and vicious in the fighting in Iraq and Syria, but the threat they pose is compounded by the fact that a good number of them hold Western passports that would facilitate their return to carry out attacks in the US and Europe.

More than 1,000 of the foreign fighters in Syria are estimated to be passport-carrying European citizens, while slightly more than 100 are thought to hold US passports.

But US officials are also keen to emphasize that the battle against foreign fighters is not primarily a Western security concern. Evidence from well over three years of civil war in Syria demonstrates how foreign fighters “increase the brutality and intractability of conflicts,” they say.

In announcements Wednesday, the State Department designated 10 individuals and two groups as “specially designated global terrorists” that facilitate and fund the movement of terrorist fighters. The Treasury Department designated 11 individuals and one organization as SDGTs for aiding the movement of fighters to Syria and elsewhere.

“These steps, taken the same day as the adoption of a new Security Council resolution, affirm the commitment of the United States and our partners to degrade and destroy terrorist access to financing,” said David Cohen, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial assistance. The measures, he said, would help “disrupt” the pipelines of foreign terrorist fighters.

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