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Please enter the digits in the box below:  |  Interviews  |  Yevgeny Sysoyev: ISIL looking to create new quasi-state in Afghanistan, Iran,...


March 01, 2018

Yevgeny Sysoyev: ISIL looking to create new quasi-state in Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, and Central Asia

The director of the Executive Committee of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure, Yevgeny Sysoyev, gave an interview to Interfax in which he discussed threats that Russia and the world face in the light of ISILs transformation, as well as the structures achievements in the fight against terrorism.

Question: Mr. Sysoyev, What meetings and events did the agenda of the visit to New York include? What issues were discussed?

Answer: We went to New York to speak at a joint meeting of the UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee and the Security Councils committees for sanctions against the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban movement [all banned in Russia]. The invitation to host a briefing came from the chairman of the UN Security Council Sanctions Committees, Kazakh Permanent Representative to the UN Kairat Umarov, personally.

During the almost hour-and-a-half briefing, I tried to bring to the attention of representatives of the UN Security Council member states, as well as officers of the Executive Directorate of the UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee and the monitoring group of the UN Security Council counter-terrorism Sanctions Committees, information about the organization and state of work of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure to counter terrorism and extremism, as well as its results.

I also had bilateral meetings with the Under-Secretary-General and head of the UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee, Vladimir Voronkov, the Deputy Director of the Executive Directorate of the UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee, Weixiong Chen, and the new monitoring group coordinator, Edmund Fitton-Brown.

The talks addressed present-day challenges and threats to regional and international security, specific forms and areas of practical interaction, and ways to develop our cooperation further.

Q.: Were there working contacts with U.S. representatives? Has an information exchange channel been established with U.S. security services?

A.: Presently, there are no contacts with representatives of U.S. security services within the framework of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure.

Q.: What is your assessment of the level of cooperation between the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure and the United Nations?

A.: It is rather high. Throughout its history, the SCO has always underscored the priority of the UNs coordinating role and international law. Given this, I would like to note the consistent and dynamic development of cooperation with the UN. For instance, in 2004, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution granting the SCO observer status, and later, five more resolutions and a joint declaration on cooperation between the two organizations.

In 2011 and 2012, the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure formalized relations with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the Executive Directorate of the UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee.

Since that time, our experts have been annually taking part in various visits to SCO member states to monitor the fulfillment and assist in the implementation of UN Security Council Resolutions 1373, 1624, and 2178. I am pleased that their activity invariably gets high assessments from the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate.

Moreover, representatives of relevant sections of the UN and the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure regularly and on a mutual basis take part in conferences, congresses, and working meetings that our organizations put together. They also exchange methodological materials and information reviews.

In recent years it has become a tradition for the director of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure Executive Committee to take part in UN General Assembly sessions, as well as special joint UN-SCO events on its sidelines, as well as bilateral negotiations with the UN leadership. For example, meetings with Under-Secretary-Generals Jeffrey Feltman, Yury Fedotov, and Vladimir Voronkov took place in 2016-2017.

Contacts between the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure and the Office of Counter-Terrorism, a new division of the UN created on the initiative of António Guterres, are developing actively. A memorandum has been drafted and is awaiting intrastate approval between our organizations. We plan to sign a cooperation document this year.

Q.: What are the main results of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure in 2017? Could you give data on the number of terrorist attacks prevented in the SCO member states? How many members of international terrorist organizations were detained and brought to justice?

A.: We do not have the full information right now. Results of the year are still being drawn up. At the same time, its fair to say that one of the most significant results of 2017 is that Russias FSB, in cooperation with its counterparts in the SCO, stopped the activities of more than 50 cells of terrorist and extremist organizations.

One hundred and fifty citizens who were wanted for terrorism were located, detained and extradited as a result of joint efforts taken by the relevant bodies of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

If we look at the broader context, competent agencies preempted over 600 terrorism-related crimes at the preparation stage, eliminated over 500 training bases, and put an end to the activities of over 2,000 members of international terrorist organizations in 2013-2017. Over 1,000 improvised explosive devices, 50 tonnes of explosives, 10,000 firearms, and over one million rounds of ammunition have been confiscated.

Q.: How many people who have links to terrorists activity are at present in sight of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure?

A.: More than 4,500 persons. They are all included in the unified search register of persons put by the security services and law enforcement agencies of SCO countries on the international wanted list for the commission of or on suspicion of terrorist, separatist, or extremist crimes.

The cooperation between the relevant bodies on the said category of persons is comprehensive in nature.

Q.: What impact has the defeat of ISILs main forces in Syria had on the situation in SCO member states?

A.: The threat of terrorist actions on the part of foreign terrorist fighters returning to their countries of origin, including to SCO member states, is growing.

The active military pressure of national and coalition anti-terrorist forces in the Syrian-Iraqi zone has changed not only the geography of the theater of war but also terrorists tactics. ISILs de facto defeat in Syria, where over 90% of territory has been liberated from the quasi-states control, has prompted the surviving militants to change their location and its leaders to reanimate their foreign branches. Special entities set up by the group are putting together, training, and redeploying sabotage and terrorist groups to Europe, Southeastern and Central Asia, and also to Russia, where so-called sleeper cells are being established.

These autonomous groups often pursue the tactic of randomly choosing targets for terror attacks in large metropolises using jihad adherents who have undergone online training.

The situation in Afghanistan causes special concern. Up to 3,000 ISIL militants who earlier fought in the Middle East are concentrated in its northern provinces. Eighty percent of them are foreigners, including people from Russia, the countries of Central Asia, and China.

The situation is aggravated by the fact that unlike the Taliban, whose 70,000 people control up to 60% of the territory of Afghanistan and are behind more than 90% of the attacks on government forces, ISIL supporters are looking to create a new quasi-state called Vilayat Khorasan, including in it territories of Afghanistan, Iran, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and Central Asia.

Q.: Is there data on how many foreign terrorists may return to their countries of origins from Syria, as well as other countries, like Afghanistan?

A.: Its quite hard to give the exact number of militants who could return to their countries of origin. At the same time, naturally, there is a significant number of such persons.

During the active phase of the war for a caliphate, the number of foreign terrorist fighters amounted to some 40,000 people from 110 countries, based on various estimates. Certain information indicates that more than 5,000 militants have returned to their countries of origin.

At the present time, the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structures register of individuals moving to regions with heightened terrorist activity and intending to take part in armed conflicts on the side of international terrorist organizations, as well as those returning to SCO member states afterwards, includes over 4,200 individuals.

Given this, we have been working out and implementing joint measures to counteract this category of people.

Q.: In your opinion, how important is the accession of India and Pakistan to the SCO from the point of view of countering terrorist and extremist threats in the organizations territory? How have these two states been interacting with the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure?

A.: The decision to give India and Pakistan the status of full-fledged members of the SCO - it now comprises 44% of the worlds population - was made at the summit in Astana in June 2017 and will boost the consolidation of the efforts of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure to counter international terrorism.

We expect that the rich experience and broad capabilities of our new colleagues will considerably increase the anti-terrorist potential of our structure. This will allow us in the near future to look at the accomplishment of pressing regional security tasks differently, including in terms of resuming the activity of the SCO-Afghanistan contact group.

The process of adapting and integrating India and Pakistan is moving gradually and dynamically. The new member states are ready for full-scale and comprehensive practical interaction.

Last February, Delhi hosted an expert meeting of the [SCO] member states. A similar event is expected to take place in Islamabad. And our new colleagues from India and Pakistan will soon come to the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure Executive Committee.

Q.: Has an understanding among colleagues in the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure been reached on restricting access to websites that contain terrorist and extremist material?

A.: Of course it has. Given its importance and relevance, improving the coordination and interaction of relevant agencies on information security has been a priority area of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure for 10 years.

This is linked to the fact that the development telecommunications technologies and the increase in Internet users have made the possibilities of international terrorist organizations, particularly ISIL, almost unlimited, not only in terms of promoting their ideology, but also in creating conditions for peoples self-radicalization, recruiting new members, attracting new financial resources, coordinating the activity of underground cells, and masterminding and perpetrating terrorist attacks.

The SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure has created the required organizational and legal basis over this period. In particular, joint measures to prevent and thwart the use of computer networks for terrorist purposes have been approved, and a joint working group has been established. Knowledge and skills were honed during two joint cyber exercises in Chinas city of Xiamen in 2015 and 2017.

The great and systematic work done in the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure helped ensure the proper exchange of operative information on instances of the online dissemination of terrorist and extremist content and the mechanism for taking measures to block it, which made it possible to block or limit access to over 100,000 Internet sites containing over four million pieces of terrorist and extremist material in 2016-2017.

Q.: In late 2017, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announced the idea of creating a center for countering new challenges and threats on the basis of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure. What is your attitude to the proposal? What will set the center apart from existing bodies at the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure?

A.: As I see it, this this is a promising idea. Russian President Vladimir Putin first voiced it at the SCO summit in Beijing in June 2012.

Its about expanding the powers of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure through incorporating the fight against the trafficking of narcotic and psychotropic substances, transnational organized crime, and the illegal trade in arms, munitions, and explosives, as well as ensuring international information security, in addition to the fight against terrorism, separatism, and extremism.

The implementation of these proposals would help achieve two important objectives.

First, it would tie together the coordination of the fight against terrorism and other connected tasks, which would naturally allow us to work out and implement more comprehensive and systematic measures to counter present-day challenges and threats of a global and interconnected nature.

Second, it would minimize expenditures on creating and maintaining the center by giving new tasks to the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure Executive Committee, which has an efficient organizational structure. This will require just a small increase in staff.

China and a number of other SCO member states backed Russias initiative; however, consensus on this issue has not been reached. Consultations and discussions on the expert level are under way.

Q.: When will another international conference of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure take place in Tashkent? What issues are expected to be discussed? Will Afghanistan be on the agenda?

A.: The SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure holds conferences annually, and as a rule in the fourth quarter.

It should be noted that the authority of the conference and the interest in participating in it among our partners has been growing. For example, the fifth international conference in 2017 involved, in addition to the 12 relevant bodies of the Shanghai family, seven relevant structures of the United Nations, including the UN Office on Counter-Terrorism and the UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Committee headed by UN Under-Secretary-General Fedotov, as well as six leading international organizations, including the OSCE, the Eurasian Group on Combating Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism (EAG), the CSTO, the CIS, and others.

The agenda of the 2018 conference will touch on such issues as ensuring regional security, as well as practical mechanisms and ways to strengthen anti-terrorist cooperation.

Naturally, the situation in Afghanistan will be among the topics of expert discussions by the conferences participants, since processes taking place there have a serious influence on security in the whole SCO region.

Moreover, the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure will turn 15 on January 1, 2019. This event, too, should not be neglected on the agenda of our conference.

Q.: The SCO convention on countering extremism was adopted at the SCO summit in Astana in June 2017. What is the reason for adopting the convention? Can you describe it for us?

A.: The adoption of the SCO convention on countering extremism was the collective response of SCO member states to the outbreak of extremist crimes all over the world, which created for the international community the important task of countering such manifestations. China launched the development of the convention. Following two years of intense expert work, the member states managed to secure a common understanding and work out mechanisms of anti-extremist cooperation.

The convention fixes the fundamental provisions that extremism poses a threat, providing as it does a nourishing environment for terrorism, that states and their relevant agencies play a crucial role in countering terrorism and extremism, that international law and the UN Charter, primarily the principles of sovereignty and equality of states and non-interference in domestic affairs, need to be observed, that the ideology and practice of extremism in any form is condemned and that public appeals to extremist activities are not permitted.

The notion of extremism as a destructive phenomenon was fixed, and its contents and the main forms of extremist activity that have to be criminalized were identified.

The convention sets out the mechanisms of interaction of SCO member states in the spheres of preventive and preemptive activities, joint countering of extremism, and providing legal assistance. It also promotes the unification of the laws of the signatories.

A common vision of the legal basis for countering violent encroachments on lawful authorities, not only in the context of growing terrorist threats, but also in the broader sense of preventing any coup detat, is an important and unique feature of the convention.

The principled positions and weighty innovations of the convention will help secure the role of the SCO as a leader in the sphere of inter-state counteraction of extremism and will set an example of the needed level of coordination and cooperation of like-minded states in the international arena.


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