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Britain faces ‘intense’ terror threat, fresh attacks inevitable, says UK spy chief

Director-general of the domestic intelligence agency MI5 Andrew Parker said the country witnessed a “dramatic shift in the threat” from Islamist terrorism this year.

world Updated: Oct 18, 2017 10:11 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
MI5,UK spy chief,Islamist terrorism
Director-general of the UK’s domestic intelligence agency MI5 Andrew Parker said the country was facing its most severe terrorist threat ever. (AP File Photo. )

Britain was facing its most severe terrorist threat ever and it witnessed a “dramatic shift in the threat” from Islamist terrorism this year, said the head of British intelligence agency MI5 on Tuesday in a rare public speech.

Andrew Parker, director-general of the domestic intelligence agency MI5, told journalists covering security and crime in London that fresh attacks in the country were inevitable.

Britain faced four terror attacks this year, one in Manchester and three in London, claiming nearly 35 lives. The current threat level from international terrorism is set at ‘severe’, which means attack is highly likely.

“That (terror) threat is multi-dimensional, evolving rapidly and operating at a scale and pace we’ve not seen before. It’s at the highest tempo I have seen in my 34-year career. Today there is more terrorist activity, coming at us more quickly, and it can be harder to detect,” he said.

He said the under pressure MI5 had thwarted 20 plots in the last four years and seven plots in the last seven months alone.

The agency, he added, was running 500 live operations involving 3,000 individuals.

“The threat is more diverse than I’ve ever known. Plots developed here in the UK, but plots are directed from overseas as well,” he said.

He said the plots involved “complex scheming and also crude stabbings; lengthy planning as well as spontaneous attacks.”

“Extremists of all ages, gender and backgrounds, united only by the toxic ideology of violent victory that drives them,” he said.

Asked if attacks were inevitable in future, he told newspersons: “I think we have to be careful that we don’t find ourselves being held to some sort of perfect standard of 100% because that just isn’t achievable.”

“Attacks can sometimes accelerate from inception through planning to action in just a handful of days. This pace, together with the way extremists can exploit safe spaces online, can make threats harder to detect and give us a smaller window to intervene.”

According to him, over 130 Britons were believed to have died fighting for the so-called Islamic State and danger was posed by the potential return of 850 who had travelled to its territory, although a large influx had not yet materialised.

Amid concerns that internet majors were not doing enough to curb terror-related activities, Parker said as technology advanced, social media companies had an “ethical responsibility” to do more to help suppress terrorism.

He warned that “an unintended side-effect is that these advances also aid the terrorists, whether it’s the ease of online purchasing, social media content or encrypted communications. No company wants to provide terrorists with explosive precursors”.

“Social media platforms don’t want to host bomb making videos. And communications providers don’t want to provide the means of terrorist planning, beyond the sight of MI5.”

First Published: Oct 18, 2017 09:56 IST