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Last update: Tue, 09 Feb 2016 04am

EU to set up expert cell to fight jihadist propaganda

The European Union plans to set up a cell of advisors in Belgium that member governments can tap to fight jihadist propaganda, a top EU official told a newspaper Saturday. "The idea is for Belgium to welcome a cell of experts who can offer European countries immediate responses to a very serious communications problem," EU counter-terrorism chief Gilles de Kerchove told Le Soir newspaper.

Social media has become a powerful recruiting tool for jihadists, with the Islamic State group posting several videos online showing grisly beheadings of Western hostages. The experts taking part in the pilot project will offer "counter-narratives" and other messages to fight the propaganda used by Islamic State and other jihadist groups, de Kerchove said.

For example, he said, the experts might be able to distribute interviews of jihadists who return from Syria disillusioned with the cause, either because they are shocked by "sick people who take pleasure in the violence" or because the battle is no longer about removing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but rather a power struggle between insurgent groups. De Kerchove said the project is not yet finalised but the European Commission, the EU executive arm, aims to set aside one million euros over 18 months to hire five or six experts who work inside the Belgian interior ministry, according to the daily.

He said the cell would have a limited capacity to advise simultaneously a handful of European governments seeking to tackle a communications problem. "We will see if it leads to something," the counter-terrorism expert was quoted as saying. "If it works well, without doubt some states will develop a certain capacity and would like to continue it with their own means. The idea is to advise; the state then does what it wants," he said. There was no immediate comment from the European Commission. De Kerchove told AFP in September that around 3,000 citizens of the European Union had flocked to the cause of jihadists in Syria and Iraq as EU member states worry that some of them could pose a "terrorist" threat when they return to their home countries trained and battle hardened.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2015