Europol launches new unit to take down Islamic State social media accounts

Credit: PA

Europol is to launch a new Europe-wide unit specifically tasked with targeting Islamic State propaganda on social media.

The European police agency will scour the web targeting an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 accounts linked to Islamic State and which are used for propaganda and to recruit fighters to their cause.

Run by the Europol and based in The Hague, the unit will officially begin operations on 1 July with the intention of taking down IS-related accounts within hours of them being discovered.

Talking to ITV News, spokesman for Europol Soren Pedersen confirmed the unit would be aiming to take down the worst social media accounts. He added that EU bosses wanted Europol to take a more pro-active role in tackling IS on social media.

"We are setting this up because of a politicial request from Brussels," Pedersen said. "As we know Islamic State have become extremely savvy in their use of social media, both in terms of recruitment and of spreading their propaganda."

"We definitely want to take down the most horrendous acounts," he added, referring to the incidents of beheadings being uploaded onto social media accounts.

Pederen added that Europol would work as the 'focal point' with the online industry in individual countries across Europe and that all areas of social media would be covered.

"It's very important we identify and monitor where the biggest activity is but we will be looking at all social media, not just Twitter and Facebook. For example, Skype is also being used."

Skype is one form of social media IS have used Credit: Reuters

Rob Wainwright, Europol's director, said the new unit would work to identify the key accounts being run in a number of languages that "underpin" what IS is doing and would aim to "identify the ringleaders online".

He told the Guardian it would also monitor social media to identify any activity targeting people who might be vulnerable, as well as those preying on them.

He said: "Who is it reaching out to young people, in particular, by social media, to get them to come, in the first place? It's very difficult because of the dynamic nature of social media."

Calls for more to be done to tackle online radicalisation have mounted in recent weeks after claims that Talha Asmal, who was reported to have become Britain's youngest suicide bomber, was groomed over the internet.

Talha, 17, is alleged to have fled his home in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, in March to join IS and reportedly detonated a vehicle while fighting for the group in Iraq.

His family said he had been exploited by extremists on the internet "in a process of deliberate and calculated grooming".

Kadiza Sultana, Shamima Begum and Amira Abase have been missing since February Credit: Met Police

In Feburary, three British teenage girls left their London homes to travel to Turkey and then Syria. One of them, Shamima Beguin, had been in contact with the wife of an IS figther in the country.

Begum, Kadiza Sultana, and Amira Abase slipped away during the February half term and are believed to be living in Raqqa.

Europol believes up to 5,000 people from the EU, including those from the UK, France, Belgium and the Netherlands, have travelled to IS-held areas. Around 700 Britons are thought to have travelled to IS-controlled regions of Syria and Iraq.

The former reviewer of anti-terrorism legislation, Lord Carlile, has called on the Government to work with computer programmers and social media companies to counter extremist propaganda online.