SEA DE­FENCES

SBS troops pa­trol the Chan­nel as IS plots to sneak ji­hadis into UK

Daily Star Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - ■ EX­CLU­SIVE by JOE HIN­TON sun­day@dai­lystar.co.uk

SBS units are pa­trolling the coast to in­ter­cept ter­ror­ists be­ing smug­gled into the UK.

The alert comes amid in­tel­li­gence fears that Is­lamic State is plan­ning to sneak ji­hadis across the English Chan­nel.

Ev­i­dence from the se­cu­rity ser­vices in­di­cates “smug­gling rings” have al­ready used com­mer­cial ships to land ex­trem­ists at ports. Other groups used small boats to de­liver “pas­sen­gers” to re­mote coastal ar­eas.

Hun­dreds of IS fight­ers who have fled their so-called “caliphate” in Raqqa are re­ported to be in Europe and plot­ting to get into the UK.

But new fa­cial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy at UK ports and air­ports has forced them to look for al­ter­na­tive en­try routes.

Now spe­cial forces troops have been drafted into the Chan­nel to mon­i­tor the hun­dreds of ves­sels a day cross­ing Europe’s busiest water­way.

The 20-strong spe­cial forces team is based on trawlers and other ships hired by de­fence chiefs to avoid at­ten­tion. They are equipped with spe­cial­ist radar, night vi­sion equip­ment and drones fit­ted with sur­veil­lance cam­eras.

The heav­ily-armed SBS troops have fast as­sault craft ready to in­ter­cept any tar­gets and can draft in an “on call” re­ac­tion unit, which will fly in by Chi­nook he­li­copter.

The team – from a force known as M Squadron – de­ployed on the mar­itime op­er­a­tion just three weeks ago.

They are also on per­ma­nent standby in case ex­trem­ists hi­jack a cruise liner out of Southamp­ton, or take over an oil tanker as it ap­proaches fuel ter­mi­nals around the UK.

A se­nior se­cu­rity source said: “We are seek­ing the main play­ers, the money men, those with ex­plo­sives skills and train­ing that we know are sat in France wait­ing for the chance to get into the UK.

“As the more overt routes get harder they are look­ing to stay un­der the radar.

“We know that some low-level IS sup­port­ers have been landed by yacht and that a cur­rent method of en­try for some im­mi­grants is to pay for pas­sage on com­mer­cial ship­ping, such as a small tanker, and then com­plete the fi­nal part of their jour­ney by small boat to avoid port au­thor­i­ties.”

He added: “The skip­pers of these ves­sels are tak­ing a great risk. “We have in­tel­li­gence from agen­cies in Europe about peo­ple sus­pected of op­er­at­ing in Iraq and Syria for IS and we con­stantly mon­i­tor their move­ments.”

Last year armed com­man­dos shocked pas­sen­gers when they boarded a ferry off Scot­land.

The troops scaled the sides of the huge ves­sel with lad­ders and ropes as part of an ex­er­cise to prove they are ready to counter a ter­ror threat on a ferry.

And in 2001 SAS and SBS sol­diers aboard the fri­gate HMS Suther­land in­ter­cepted the cargo ship MV Nisha off the south coast.

The as­sault came amid fears the ship was car­ry­ing “ter­ror­ist ma­te­rial”. It turned out to be loaded with sugar.

COAST GUARD: Elite SBS units are mon­i­tor­ing Chan­nel ships

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