Without naming any country, Britain’s intelligence chiefs on Thursday said that south Asia continued to be a source of terrorism, with instances of British citizens supporting the ideology of al Qaeda travelling abroad and returning with capabilities that posed a threat to Britain.
“We have seen that played out in the 7/7 attacks”, Andrew Parker, director-general of MI5, said, referring to the 7 July 2005 attacks on London in which 52 people died. The attacks were carried out by four UK-born individuals of Pakistan origin.
Parker told a committee of parliament in a hearing that was telecast live for the first time that since the 2005 London attacks, Britain’s intelligence agencies had disrupted 34 plots, some of them involving the prospect of mass casualities.
Parker was questioned on a wide range of issues along with John Sawers, chief of MI6 and Iain Lobban, director of the communications intelligence agency, GCHQ, by the Intelligence and Security Committee of parliament.
Sawers told MPs that “we were not configured in 2001” to face the threat of international terrorism, but since then much had been done to deal with new threats with international links. The three intelligence chiefs insisted they acted within the law.
After the September 11 attacks, Parker said the picture was dominated by threats from south Asia, with people living in Britain interacting with others in different countries. That signalled a ‘big shift’ in counter-terrorism in Britain, he said.
Since then, Parker added that the threats had become more diverse with new challenges emerging in Yemen, Syria, north Africa, “but still from south Asia”.
He was responding to a question on ‘terrorist tourism’, with instances of UK citizens willing to engage in terrorism travellign abroad, developing links with al Qaeda groups and acquire capabilities for use in Britain.
According to Sawers, more British citizens had been killed overseas in 2013 than in the last seven years. He said the threat overseas was “getting bigger”, and added that former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations had been “damaging and they have put our operations at risk”.
Lobban, who heads the communications centre GCHQ, said the Internet had made it easier for terrorists to operate, which made the task of intelligence agencies harder. He assured the people that “we do not soend time listening to phone calls or emails of the majority of people, we don’t do it, it is not legal, we don’t want to delve into innocent communication”.