Credible terrorist threat every year, says MI5 head

Tue, Jun 26, 2012, 01:00

THE UNITED Kingdom has faced one credible terrorist attack plot every year over the last decade, the head of Britain’s internal security service, MI5, Jonathan Evans, said last night, including many home-grown plans orchestrated “on the streets of this country”.

In a rare speech in London, Mr Evans said: “You could say that we are near to reaching a form of stalemate – they haven’t stopped trying but we have got better at stopping them. That is normally as much as security on its own can achieve.”

However, he warned: “In back rooms and in cars and on the streets of this country there is no shortage of individuals talking about wanting to mount terrorist attacks here. We see them regularly in our intelligence investigations.”

Referring to the Olympics, Mr Evans said that they “present an attractive target for our enemies” and “no doubt some terrorist networks have thought about whether they could pull off an attack, but they are not ‘an easy target’.”

The national terrorist threat level currently stands at “substantial” – meaning that an attack is a strong possibility – but one notch lower than has been the case for much of the last 10 years, he continued.

“Terrorism will outlast the Olympics. The fact that there has been no successful al-Qaeda-related terrorist attacks in Britain since 2005 is the result of a great deal of hard and creative work by the security, intelligence and police services.”

However, the fight must continue, he said, despite the perception that the threat has passed because Osama bin Laden is dead, al-Qaeda’s leadership is under attack and London has not faced “a major attack here for seven years”: “That is all true.”

Some Arab countries have “once more become a permissive environment for al-Qaeda”, completing the cycle that began when the organisation left for Afghanistan in the 1990s and then went on to Pakistan after the fall of the Taliban, said Mr Evans, the director-general of the Security Service, better known to the public as MI5.

“Terrorist problems have a long tail. They very rarely just stop. At best they can be exhausted by long and persistent pressure, together with political measures.

“It is essential that we maintain pressure on al-Qaeda and its associates and squeeze the vigour out of the terrorist groups so that the risk of terrorism does not revive here.”

Three-quarters of all of the cases facing MI5 “a few years ago” had “some sort of Pakistan and/or Afghanistan dimension”.

However, he said, “thanks to our efforts and those of our international partners that figure has reduced and now stands at less than 50 per cent.

“We appear to be moving from a period of a deep and focused threat to one where the threat is less monolithic but wider. Al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen, Somalia and the Sahel have become more dangerous as al-Qaeda in Pakistan has declined and we see increasing levels of co-operation between al-Qaeda groups in various parts of the world,” he said.

Pointing to the terrorist threat posed by republican dissidents in Northern Ireland, Mr Evans that said these groups had remained active for many years after the Belfast Agreement, demonstrating the need for the security forces to “remain engaged and alert to any resurgent threat.

“Recent successes against dissident republican groups have demonstrated that continued intelligence-led operations there are both necessary and effective,” he said, delivering the lord mayor’s annual defence and security lecture, The Olympics and Beyond.