The government plans to set up four groups to monitor terrorist activities in Asia, Africa and the Middle East under the Foreign Ministry's intelligence gathering unit, which is expected to begin operating next April, officials said.

The groups, likely to be composed of dozens of experts in regional affairs and foreign languages, will analyze information collected by Japan's embassies in North Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and South Asia, the sources said Saturday.

The launch of the new intelligence unit is seen as a pillar in Japan's plan to improve its counterterrorism capabilities after two Japanese men were beheaded earlier this year by the Islamic State militant group. The terrorist group also claimed responsibility for the shooting Saturday of a Japanese in Bangladesh.

Tokyo is also seeking to ramp up public safety in the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Hiroaki Takizawa, who headed the National Police Agency's foreign affairs and intelligence department, will likely oversee the new units, according to the sources.

The NPA, the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry are expected to send experts to the new unit to facilitate information exchanges with foreign intelligence agencies.

Those in the North Africa and Middle East groups will be tasked with monitoring activities by Islamic State extremists, while the Southeast Asia team will keep a close eye on the al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist group. The South Asia group is to be tasked with following the Taliban.

The government may in the future consider upgrading the unit to a status similar to that of the CIA or Britain's MI6, the sources said.