‘Private sector’ mobilization to fight IS launched in NY
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‘Private sector’ mobilization to fight IS launched in NY

The Counter Extremism Project seeks to refute social media messaging, compile world’s biggest database of extremist networks

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Demonstrators chant slogans to support ISIL as they carry flags in front of the provincial government headquarters in Mosul, 225 miles (360 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, on June 16, 2014. (photo credit: AP)
Demonstrators chant slogans to support ISIL as they carry flags in front of the provincial government headquarters in Mosul, 225 miles (360 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, on June 16, 2014. (photo credit: AP)

WASHINGTON — With top-level meetings underway at the United Nations to determine a plan for confronting the Islamic State, blocks away, a star-studded panel launched a nongovernmental initiative to confront what it described as a “growing threat from extremist ideology.”

During a press conference Monday morning, former world leaders and top diplomats gathered to launch the Counter Extremism Project, a private-sector organization that describes itself as nonpartisan in its efforts to combat extremism.

CEP lists among its goals the compilation of the world’s most exhaustive database on extremist groups and their networks, and places unmasking the funding sources for IS high on its list of immediate priorities.

“We can play a critically important role in breaking the financial support for extremists,” former senator Joseph Lieberman – one of CEP’s advisers – promised during the press conference. Lieberman questioned the funding sources for IS, including asking which entities were purchasing the oil drawn from IS-controlled wells in Iraq.

“The challenge of extremism is an all-hands-on-deck mode,” said Mark Wallace, the organization’s CEO. Wallace, a Bush-era ambassador to the UN, an attorney and a businessman, is also the head of United Against Nuclear Iran. That organization, established in 2008 by Wallace, former CIA Director R. James Woolsey, and ambassadors Richard Holbrooke and Dennis Ross, has dogged foreign companies which maintained active business investment and interest in Iran, as well as pushing for tough sanctions to further marginalize the Iranian economy.

Wallace says that the new organization will seek to partner with governments in combating extremism – providing them with information as well as working to devise legislation to reduce the threat posed by extremist groups.

The new group will expand upon the activist horizons of UANI. In addition to its work with governments, CEP will also take to the internet, mobilizing social media “to expose the threat of extremists and mount a global counter-narrative to directly counter extremist ideology.”

According to the organization’s description, it will primarily target this initiative toward “young people in communities across the globe vulnerable to extremist messaging and recruitment.”

Former Homeland Security adviser Frances Townsend emphasized Monday that the organization was part of a “private sector” mobilization to fight extremism. “The private sector has not only a role, but a responsibility” to fight extremism, Townsend argued. “The idea is to supplement what the governments are doing not just in the US but around the world.”

While IS is the organization’s central talking point right now, its website also includes profiles of al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and the Muslim Brotherhood.

With a bevy of subjects, including climate change and Iran’s nuclear program, on the table, building international coalitions against IS has emerged as a central theme during the top-level meetings held during the United Nation’s General Assembly.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond placed IS at the top of their agenda during a bilateral meeting Monday morning. According to a senior State Department official, Kerry provided an update on efforts to build an international coalition to degrade and destroy IS. US President Barack Obama and UK Prime Minister David Cameron are expected to meet later this week, and will also discuss their respective countries’ contributions to the fight against the jihadist organization.

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