[WATCH] UK is facing most severe terror threat ever, says MI5 chief

According to Andrew Parker, the UK has seen a 'dramatic upshift' in the threat from Isamist terrorism this year

Andrew Parker (Photo: Metro)
Andrew Parker (Photo: Metro)

Britain is facing its most severe ever terrorist threat and fresh attacks in the country are inevitable, according to the head of Britain’s domestic intelligence service in a rare public speech.

Andrew Parker, the director general of MI5, said the UK had seen “a dramatic upshift in the threat” from Islamist terrorism this year, reflecting attacks that have taken place in Westminster, Manchester and London Bridge.

That threat is multi-dimensional, evolving rapidly and operating at a scale and pace we’ve not seen before,” he said.

He added: “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.”

MI5 is under pressure to demonstrate its effectiveness after four Islamist terrorist attacks escaped its detection this year.

This month, the government will receive reports regarding whether chances to thwart incidents were missed and what lessons could be learnt. The National Security Council wanted independent oversight of the review. In this way, MI5 or counter-terrorism police would not be allowed to assess themselves. Oversight is being provided by the barrister David Anderson QC, a former government appointment as independent reviewer of terrorism legislation.

According to Parker, MI5 had stopped many terror incidents and plots from occurring, than those that had caused mass deaths this year. He went on to say that 20 plots had been torn down in the last four years alone.

According to Parker, seven were stopped in the last seven months alone.

“The threat is more diverse than I’ve ever known. Plots developed here in the UK, but plots directed from overseas as well. Plots online. Complex scheming and also crude stabbings; lengthy planning but also spontaneous attacks. Extremists of all ages, gender and backgrounds, united only by the toxic ideology of violent victory that drives them.”

He also defended the decisions made by his staff about which suspects posed the most danger to the public.

“They get up and come to work every single day to make terrorist attacks less likely and to keep the country safe. They are constantly making tough professional judgments based on fragments of intelligence; pinpricks of light against a dark and shifting canvas. That is the job of MI5.”

This year, such attacks claimed no less than 36 lives. As well as the incidents in Manchester, Westminster, Finsbury Park and London bridge, a partial explosion occurred at Parsons Green. 

Parker added that military defeat in Syria and Iraq for Islamic State did not mean its threat would wane.

“Meanwhile, Daesh [Isis] itself is under military pressure and is rapidly losing ground in its heartland in Syria and Iraq. So much so that it’s now advising would-be fighters to choose other countries … At the same time the Daesh brand has taken root in some other countries where areas of low governance give it space to grow.”

Asked if a future attack in the UK was inevitable, Parker said: “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.” He said it was likely attacks would occur.

The formal terrorism threat level remains at severe, meaning an attack is highly likely. Twice this year it has been raised to its maximum level, meaning an attack could be imminent, after the Manchester and Parsons Green attacks. In both cases there were fears among officials that suspects or bomb related materials could be at large.

Amid concerns that Brexit could damage security cooperation, Parker said working with European partners remained crucial to MI5’s mission. “We share intelligence. We run joint operations. Every single day.”

Parker said that as technology advances, social media companies have 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.

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