A new special forces regiment is being created to infiltrate Islamic terrorist groups such as al-Qa’eda, The Telegraph can reveal. The Reconnaissance and Surveillance Regiment will work closely with the Special Air Service and the Special Boat Service. Its mission will be to penetrate groups, either directly or by “turning” terrorists into double agents.
It will be given the authority to operate around the world, working closely with friendly intelligence agencies such as the CIA and Mossad.
Security chiefs hope that the regiment, comprising up to 600 troops, will run a network of agents providing the West with accurate intelligence on potential terrorist operations, allowing attacks to be foiled. It will at first be formed from members of a highly secret surveillance agency – the Joint Communications Unit Northern Ireland – which has worked in Ulster for more than 20 years. The unit, which worked with the SAS, MI5 and the Special Branch, perfected the art of covert surveillance in urban and rural areas and created a network of double agents who supplied the British security forces with intelligence on terrorist attacks.
Its success stemmed from its ability to plant listening devices and cameras in the homes and cars of terrorists, to bug phones and to monitor suspects at close quarters.
Such was the secrecy surrounding the unit that few of its operations were made public. Members of the unit are, however, some of the most highly decorated men and women in the Services.
One of its successes was providing the information for the SAS operation in 1988 which led to the shooting dead of three IRA terrorists who were planning to attack British forces in Gibraltar. The unit also took part in an operation that thwarted an IRA plot to attack a police station at Loughgall, County Tyrone, in 1987. Eight IRA members were killed by the SAS in a carefully planned ambush.
Volunteers for the regiment, both male and female, will be taken from all three branches of the Armed Forces. Officers are keen to recruit those of Middle Eastern or Mediterranean appearance, as well as Muslims and members of ethnic minorities.
Recruitment has begun and volunteers must pass an intensive six-month training course, learning covert surveillance, communications, driving skills and first aid as well as close-quarter battle skills, using a variety of weapons. Priority will be given to those able to infiltrate or blend in with Islamic terror groups, rather than, as with the SAS, their fitness or fighting capabilities.
One officer said: “The SAS’s role is essentially to kill people. This new regiment’s role is to provide the intelligence for the SAS to do that.”
Those who pass – a 90 per cent failure rate is expected – will be sent on an Arabic course at the Armed Forces language school at Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire.
The unit will be commanded by a lieutenant colonel with a special forces background, although not necessarily a member of the SAS, and will be based in South Wales. He will report to the Director of Special Forces.
A senior officer associated with the formation of the new regiment said: “This unit will be used primarily for intelligence gathering. The work will be dangerous, as it was in Northern Ireland, and operators will be taught how to protect themselves. The threat from Irish terror groups is far less now and although we will keep a presence in Ulster, it is time to use this force on a worldwide basis.”