New Europol unit to hunt down Islamic State online

New European team will track down the people behind Islamic State's social media campaigns

Computer hacker

A newly created Europe-wide police force will track and block social media accounts found to be disseminating Islamic State propaganda and recruitment information online.

The European police agency Europol announced that it will work with several unnamed social media companies to help combat the spread of Islamic State's online campaigns by closing accounts linked with the militant group. The team will also attempt to track down the people behind the dissemination of IS information.

Some estimates suggest that 100,000 tweets a day are circulated from 45,000 to 50,000 accounts associated with the group, which controls territory across Iraq and Syria, The Guardian reports.

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The Brookings institute in Washington suggests that the number of IS-linked accounts could be even higher, possibly around 90,000, the BBC reports.

Europol's director, Rob Wainwright, told the Guardian that the new unit would try to prevent IS from targeting young people. He said they would investigate questions such as: "Who is it reaching out to young people, in particular, by social media, to get them to come, in the first place?"

He added that tracking them down was difficult "because of the dynamic nature of social media", but pledged to "identify the ringleaders online" and bring them to justice.

Since 2013, 700 British people are believed to have travelled to territory controlled by IS in Syria and Iraq. The group is also known to have attracted volunteers from other European countries including Belgium, France and Holland.

Wainwright says that the group tends to attract "disaffected" youths from teenage gangs in Europe who see IS as a "bigger gang in Syria".

British home secretary, Theresa May, said that Britain must support the EU in the fight against IS. She said the threat was a common one across Europe, "and if we are to defeat it, we need to work together".

May added: "We have also supported the EU in setting up an internet-referral unit at Europol to address the increasing amount of terrorist and extremist propaganda available on the internet, and I am pleased to say the UK will be seconding a police officer to this unit."

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