Europe to hunt Islamic State online ringleaders

Europe to hunt Islamic State online ringleaders
The European Union's law enforcement agency, Europol, have tasked a team to track and block Islamic State linked social media accounts to tackle online 'grooming'.
3 min read
22 June, 2015
Europol will launch its Internet Referral Unit on July 1 [AFP]

A Europe-wide police team is being formed to track and block social media accounts linked to the Islamic State (IS) group, in an attempt to tackle the issue of online recruitment by extremists.

The European Union's law enforcement agency, Europol, will launch its Internet Referral Unit on July 1, with aims to "identify the ringleaders online".

The new team will work with unnamed social media companies to track the accounts and to get any new accounts closed down within two hours of being set up.

     The Internet is the Islamic State's main tool to spread its warped worldview

- David Cameron

Europol estimates that up to 5,000 EU citizens, including people from the UK, France, Belgium and the Netherlands, have travelled to territories controlled by IS.

Over a period of four months, IS supporters have used more than 46,000 Twitter accounts and produced 90,000 tweets and other social media responses daily, a US study found.

Many of these, the study believes, have helped to recruit new IS members.

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Friday urged action focused on the Internet saying it is the Islamic State's "main tool to spread its warped worldview."

"We've always had angry young men and women buying into supposedly revolutionary causes," Cameron told a dozen European leaders attending the GLOBSEC security conference in the Slovak capital Bratislava.

"Those young recruits left often loving, well-to-do homes, good schools and bright prospects to strap explosives to their chests and blow themselves up and kill innocent people" Cameron said.

Britain was recently shaken by the case of 17-year-old Talha Asmal, a Briton identified as the driver of one of four explosive-laden vehicles used in an attack on an oil refinery in northern Iraq a week ago.

But Britain's strategy on "Islamist extremism" has been in the spotlight for months since IS executioner "Jihadi John" was identified as Mohammed Emwazi from London and a string of young people left Britain to fight for the IS group in Syria.

In February, Shamima Begum, Amira Abase, both 15, and Kadiza Sultana, 16, disappeared from their homes in east London and flew to Turkey, before crossing the border into war torn Syria.

And in the most recent case, three British sisters are feared to have gone to Syria with their nine children, one as young as three, to join their brother fighting there.

"We are working with the Internet industry to tackle terrorist propaganda – removing over 90,000 pieces of material since 2010," the UK leader added.

But "tracking all IS-linked social media accounts was too big a task" Rob Wainwright, Europol's director, told the BBC.

"We will have to combine what we see online, with our own intelligence and that shared with us by European police services, so we can be a bit more targeted and identify who the key user accounts are and concentrate on closing them down" Wainwright said.

EU counter-terror chief, Gilles de Kerchove, told AFP that an estimated 4,000 Europeans have so far joined the fight in Syria.

"The member states expect the European Union to intervene with Internet giants to remove illegal sites, carry out checks and develop a counter-narrative to prevent recruitment," De Kerchove said, admitting that there was still a lot that needed to be done regarding the Internet.