If the Islamic State’s message to the international community is “bring it on,” they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.
At the UN Security Council Wednesday, countries often at each other’s diplomatic throats joined together to adopt a sweeping anti-terrorism resolution aimed at lock-step action to block the flow of recruits to Islamic State and other militant groups over international borders.
“In the nearly 70 years of the United Nations, this is only the sixth time the Security Council has met at a level like this,” said U.S. President Barack Obama, who chaired the meeting on the resolution, which won sponsorship from 104 countries.
“We convene such sessions to address the most urgent threats to peace and security. And I called this meeting because we must come together, as nations and an international community, to confront the real and growing threat of foreign terrorist fighters.”
The unusually detailed eight-page document requires countries to take all necessary steps to block travel for would-be fighters, disrupt their financial support, develop laws to prosecute them, and suppress recruitment, transport and equipment of those aiming to cross borders for terrorist acts. And it urges countries to put in place programs that would stem the radicalism of recruits who are often young and alienated from their societies.
It also calls for more tracking and listing of would-be terrorists, and ramped-up co-operation on information-sharing, including of data obtained from the Internet.
The resolution cautioned against violating “human rights and fundamental freedoms.” But its unanimous adoption highlighted the extent to which fear of state surveillance, especially the U.S. National Security Agency’s wide-ranging operations, has been overtaken by mounting anxiety over terrorism and the frustration of countries that have suffered attacks, from Europe to the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
The focus was on the Islamic State, which continues to gain ground and heap scorn on its ideological foes with acts of unparalleled savagery.
Earlier Wednesday news surfaced of a French hostage, Hervé Gourdel, beheaded by Algerian kidnappers from a group linked with the Islamic State, a murder President François Hollande condemned as “barbarism.”
And as hundreds of world leaders, foreign ministers and diplomats gathered at the annual UN General Assembly debate, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared the metropolitan area under threat of terrorist attack, and beefed up security and surveillance in key New York hubs and transit points, including Times Square and Wall Street.
On Tuesday, the U.S. carried out air strikes against the little-known Khorasan Group in Syria to prevent what it said was an “imminent” terrorist attack. That followed a weekend of panic for more than 100,000 Kurds who fled northern Syria as the Islamic State seized territory near their enclave.
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister David Cameron said he will recall Parliament on Sept. 26 to vote on joining air strikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq.
At the Wednesday meeting, one leader after another rose to testify to the threats posed by Islamic State and other terror groups. In Nigeria, where hundreds of young women have been kidnapped, President Goodluck Jonathan said Boko Haram militants have tried to quash development through “a wave of terror, assassinations, bombings and now abductions and kidnappings.”
China deplored a wave of attacks by “East Turkestan terrorists,” causing heavy casualties. And it announced a conference on counter-terrorism to be held in Beijing this year.
But the rare convergence of countries that are often highly critical of each other’s stands on human rights pointed to the difficulty of co-operation. China and Russia decried “double standards” on terrorism, a label that is used by authoritarian regimes as an excuse for cracking down on dissent.
Other problems spring from the weakness of states that are vulnerable to the transit of terrorists, but lack training and resources to stop them.
While most of the focus was on tough action to block the spread of terrorism, leaders also acknowledged the need for getting to the roots of alienation that turns young people to violence.
“We should all be prepared to announce the concrete steps that we have taken to counter extremist ideologies,” said Obama in an earlier speech to the General Assembly, “by getting intolerance out of schools, stopping radicalization before it spreads and promoting institutions and programs that build new bridges of understanding.”
Iraq’s new Shiite Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who replaced embattled Nouri al-Maliki, made his first appearance at the UN on Wednesday, condemning the Islamic State as well as “remains of the Baath Party” who support them.
But he also decried sectarianism and said “our only allegiance is to Iraq and its people,” a reassurance that his government would try to prevent the breakup of the country along sectarian lines that escalated during Maliki’s term.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the council that terrorism was a “symptom of a bigger problem — the collapse of state structures in our neighbourhood.”