69th Session of the United Nations General Assembly
- The 69th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), a major series of meetings by the
worldwide intergovernmental body,
will begin on Tuesday, September 16, 2014 and continue throughout early October.
- There are currently no direct threats to the upcoming UNGA, however, the United Nations has previously been referenced as a possible terrorist target and the facilities of the international body have been attacked abroad in the past.
- This year’s UNGA comes at a time of escalated geo-political tensions as a result of humanitarian crises, violent unrest, and instability throughout the Middle East and Africa, including conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Israel/Gaza.
- Over 130 heads of state, foreign ministers, and diplomatic staff are anticipated to participate in the meetings, increasing the likelihood of potentially disruptive demonstrations.
OverviewThe opening of the 69th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) will begin on Tuesday, September 16, 2014 at the U.N. headquarters in New York City. High profile meetings between international diplomats and heads of state will take place throughout the remainder of September and will conclude in the first week of October. The UNGA’s General Debate is slated to begin on Wednesday, September 24 and will conclude on October 1. The General Assembly will focus on the development and realization of its agenda beyond 2015. Additionally, several major dialogues and meetings addressing international security and humanitarian aid-related issues are scheduled to take place this year including a high-level meeting of the U.N. Security Council which will be hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama during the week of September 22 that could lead to a resolution on potential military action to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). More than 130 heads of state, foreign ministers, and diplomatic staff will be attending UNGA meetings. Recent developments indicate that a number of pressing international issues will likely be discussed, including the humanitarian crises and instability in Sub-Saharan Africa and the state of negotiations between the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) and Iran over its nuclear proliferation program. In addition to the UNGA meeting, several institutions throughout the city will be organizing events which will be attended by heads of state and foreign ministers during this time.
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Threat AssessmentThere is currently no threat information indicating plans to attack the U.N. headquarters during the 69th UNGA session, however large gatherings of elected officials, symbolic government locations, and densely populated crowds remain attractive targets for al-Qa’ida, and other international terrorist organizations as well as homegrown violent extremists that may adhere to the violent ideology shared by these groups. This was demonstrated during the April 15 Boston Marathon attacks, which left four people dead and more than 240 injured. Reports indicated that the two individuals responsible for the Boston bombings aspired to carry out additional improvised explosive device (IED) attacks in New York City’s Times Square. Publicly accessible plazas, choke points along VIP convoys, as well as entrance and egress areas, may be viewed as prime locations for attacks involving assaults with firearms, hazardous materials, explosives, and other tactics. This year’s UNGA comes at a time of heightened geo-political tensions abroad as a result of unrest throughout the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe including conflicts in Central African Republic, Nigeria, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Libya, eastern Ukraine, and Israel/Gaza. Al-Qa’ida in Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) most recent English- language publication, titled “A Message of Support for Our People in Gaza,” called for retaliatory attacks against Jewish and U.S. interests worldwide in response to Israel’s latest offensive in the Gaza Strip. Additionally, the recent kidnappings and beheadings of U.S. citizens by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant prompted the United Kingdom to raise its terrorism alert on Friday, August 29, 2014, to “severe,” indicating that an attack was “highly likely.” While there are currently no known ISIL threats to the U.S. homeland, the terrorist group’s access to Western recruits and the possibility of small scale attacks carried out by those inspired by ISIL remains a concern. The United Nations and its various agencies across the world have been attacked in the past by terrorist groups, including al-Qa’ida. On August 19, 2003, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq based at Baghdad’s Canal Hotel was hit with a massive vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED). The bombing killed at least 22 people including the U.N.’s Special Representative in Iraq and wounded more than 100. The attack was ultimately claimed by al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI). Another notable attack took place on August 26 in Abuja, Nigeria, when the local U.N. mission there was attacked with a VBIED, killing at least 18 persons. The Nigerian group Boko Haram claimed responsibility. In the attack, the driver of the VBIED rapidly accelerated on a straight road leading to the compound, rammed an SUV packed with explosives through the perimeter security gate and detonated the device in the main entrance of the facility. In June 2013, al-Shabaab, an organization which threatened retaliation this week for the killing of its leader Ahmed Abi Godane, targeted a U.N. compound in Mogadishu with a truck bomb and a follow-on small arms assault that left at least 13 dead. Most recently, on August 28, 2014, at least 45 Fijian U.N. peacekeepers were abducted along the Syrian side of the Golan Heights by al-Qa’ida’s official affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusrah. In addition to general terrorism threats, several controversial political figures will likely attend the UNGA including Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, as well as representatives from the Israeli government and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, which could lead to potentially disruptive demonstrations.
Implications for New York City
- Large public gatherings, particularly those of international significance, and events in New York City remain a top target for individuals inspired by al-Qa’ida, its affiliates, ideologically adhered groups, and homegrown violent extremists.
- Foreign terrorist organizations and domestic extremists have previously targeted heads of state, foreign diplomats, and other high-ranking political figures.
- AQAP remains committed to conducting and or inspiring attacks against the U.S. after previous failed plots.
- Violent extremist groups have been known to conduct pre-operational surveillance in advance of major attacks, and security personnel should be alert to suspicious behavior and activities including loitering near potential target locations, extensive photography, and probing questions regarding safety procedures and personnel.