In a rare show of cohesion, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution brought forward by U.S. President Barack Obama aimed at stemming the flow of foreign fighters to join extremist groups.
Thirteen world leaders were present to vote in favour of the resolution. Only two Security Council members, Russia and China, did not send their heads of government to participate, and were represented instead by their foreign ministers.
The binding resolution requires countries to prevent their citizens from travelling for terrorism purposes. It was adopted at a Security Council meeting chaired by Mr. Obama, who rarely participates in such meetings and remarked that it was only the sixth time since 1946 that so many member states sent their top leaders to the session.
For Mr. Obama, the move opens a second front in a borderless war against Islamic State militants, who already control large parts of Iraq and Syria. The U.S. President put together a military coalition that began air strikes in Syria this week and Wednesday's agreement represents a new offensive.
But Mr. Obama warned that resolutions alone were not enough and world leaders needed to follow through with new domestic laws and regulations. "Lofty rhetoric, good intentions will not be enough. We are going to have to translate words into deeds."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who revealed on Wednesday the government is considering a U.S. request for more military assistance in Iraq, said he supported the UN resolution.
"The presence of a large number of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq is of course not only aggravating an already dangerous regional security situation," Mr. Harper said. "But for us, it involves the risk that individuals may return home with knowledge and experience gained in terrorist activities to motivate and recruit others and potentially to conduct attacks."
The Prime Minister was among the representatives from 51 countries, including the 15 Security Council members who hold votes, lined up to comment on the resolution. More than 20 heads of state attended the session on Wednesday.
Most expressed support for the new measures, arguing it would be up to the international community to take action at home to keep foreign fighters from further exacerbating the conflict. More than 100 countries signed onto the resolution as co-sponsors.
Mr. Harper said his government is already looking to strengthen its own anti-terror laws and added that Canada would continue to work with the U.S., Iraq and other allies to support humanitarian and military interventions in the region. Canada has committed dozens of troops for a 30-day mission to Northern Iraq to advise Kurdish security forces battling Islamic State fighters.
More than 130 Canadian citizens have left the country to join or fund extremist activities, Canadian officials say, including dozens who may have joined the Islamic State group.
U.S. officials estimate some 15,000 fighters from around the world have travelled to Syria and Iraq, causing growing concern that they are fuelling the widening conflict and could return home to launch domestic attacks.
The UN resolution was adopted just hours after a video emerged of the beheading of a French tourist captured in Algeria by militants aligned with Islamic State. The group had threatened to kill the man unless French President François Hollande stopped intervening in Syria.
In addition to the new travel restrictions, the UN resolution also calls on countries to increase intelligence-sharing and co-operation and bar the entrance of anyone believed to be travelling for terrorism-related purposes.
The resolution could also be difficult to enforce, particularly in countries such as Canada and the U.S., which don't conduct exit checks and have constitution protections, including freedom to enter and leave, for citizens not convicted of a crime.
The Security Council is responsible for maintaining international peace and security, but its capacity to address major crises has at times been limited by disagreements among the five veto-wielding permanent members. The ban defines suspected militants broadly enough that it could be considered to include secessionists, an incentive that may have helped convince Russia and China to back the idea.
However, that means groups Beijing or Moscow might deem terrorist could be regarded as legitimate political movements or even freedom fighters by Ottawa and Washington.
Turkey, a key hub for foreign fighters because of its porous border with Syria, has faced criticism for not doing more to prevent prospective IS fighters from travelling through its territory.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hit back at the criticism in an address to the Security Council on Wednesday, saying combat against foreign fighters "should start in source countries" and complaining that Turkey has been unfairly targeted for blame by the international community.
Several countries have indicated they are reviewing their laws or introducing new legislation to stem the flow of foreign fighters, including Canada. For example, the Australian government has announced plans to make it a crime for a citizen to remain in a "declared zone," where radical militants are engaged in a conflict.
How Australia plans to distinguish between aid workers and others, such as journalists, who travel to conflict zones where extremist groups are operating remains unclear.
Fears of returning foreign fighters who have gained combat experience and been further radicalized and groomed for terrorist attacks in their homelands – have spiked in recent months because of the significant numbers of Europeans believed to have travelled to Syria.
The United Nations already maintains a terrorist blacklist, the hugely controversial 1267 list, named for the resolution that created it. On it, are hundreds of individuals all "nominated" by a Security Council member and includes a travel ban.
Several countries, including Canada, have attempted to restrict citizen travel based on claims of terrorist links. The Harper government kept Canadian citizen Abousfian Abdelrazik in forced exile for years by refusing to issue him a passport or travel document to return home until a federal court ruled the government was running roughshod over his constructional rights of return. Mr. Abdelrazik subsequently applied successfully to be removed from the 1267 list – he still doesn't know which country put him on it. Ottawa still won't issue him a passport.
With reports from Bill Curry and Associated Press