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Terror group puts out around 18 messages a day to its followers
Government has set up covert group to counter radical propaganda
David Cameron is to announce new laws targeting hate preachers

A covert unit set up to tackle extremism is working ‘at an industrial scale and pace’ as it attempts to counter the barrage of ISIS propaganda online.

The Research, Information and Communications Unit (RICU), a little-known group set up by the UK government, is using Cold War tactics to stop the spread of radical jihadism.

Some of the methods used by the unit emerged today as David Cameron prepares to announce tough new laws to crack down on extremism.

Radical material is now available to anyone wanting to access it as jihadists flood the web with propaganda
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Radical material is now available to anyone wanting to access it as jihadists flood the web with propaganda

RICU was set up in response to the July 7 terror attacks in 2005, but the importance of its role has increased with the rise of ISIS, who now put out an estimated 18 messages a day to their followers.

The slick production techniques behind ISIS’s infamous beheading videos and the terrorists’ use of social media to spread them has meant even the most extreme propaganda can be accessed in homes, schools and workplaces around the world.

It emerged today that RICU often conceals the origin of information it sends out over fears that knowing it came from the government would undermine its credibility in the eyes of some young Muslims.

One initiative, which portrays itself as a campaign providing advice on how to raise funds for Syrian refugees, has spoken to thousands of students at university freshers’ fairs without any of them realising they were engaging with a government programme.

The Help for Syria campaign has distributed leaflets to 760,000 homes without the recipients realising they were government communications.

Meanwhile, some of the group’s work has been outsourced to a communications firm, Breakthrough Media Network, which produced websites, leaflets and social media pages with titles such as The Truth about ISIS,The Guardian revealed.

The tactics used by a government counter-extremism group, which include setting up the Help for Syria campaign (website pictured), emerged today as the government plans a new crackdown on hate preachers
The tactics used by a government counter-extremism group, which include setting up the Help for Syria campaign (website pictured), emerged today as the government plans a new crackdown on hate preachers

The methods have been criticised as ‘deceptive’ by critics, with human rights lawyer Imran Khan telling the newspaper: ‘This government needs to stop thinking of young British Muslims as some sort of fifth column that it needs to deal with.’

But the Home Office insisted RICU’s work could involve ‘sensitive issues’ and some of the organisations it worked with did not want to publicly reveal the relationship with the Government.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: ‘The battle against terrorism and extremism must be fought on several fronts including countering its twisted narrative online and in our communities. The need for this work is recognised at a national and international level.

Videos including those of Jihadi John, since killed, have been used by ISIS to spread hate
Videos including those of Jihadi John, since killed, have been used by ISIS to spread hate

‘As the Prime Minister has said, we face a generational challenge and it is vital we work in partnership with communities, civil society groups and individuals to confront extremism in all its forms.

‘This has been a key part of the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy since publication of the Prevent review in 2011.

‘We are very proud of the support RICU has provided to organisations working on the front line to challenge the warped ideology of groups such as Daesh [ISIS], and to protect communities.

‘This work can involve sensitive issues, vulnerable communities and hard to reach audiences and it has been important to build relationships out of the media glare.

‘We respect the bravery of individuals and organisations who choose to speak out against violence and extremism and it is right that we support, empower and protect them.

‘Our guiding principle has to be whether or not any organisation we work with is itself happy to talk publicly about what they do. At the same time we are as open as possible about RICU’s operating model, and have referenced the role of RICU in a number of publications and in Parliament.’

By RICHARD SPILLETT FOR MAILONLINE
PUBLISHED: 08:16 GMT, 3 May 2016 | UPDATED: 10:02 GMT, 3 May 2016

Find this story at 3 May 2016

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