The Arab Spring has spawned a new generation of British would-be terrorists drawn to the area for training, said the head of MI5, the U.K.’s domestic intelligence agency.
In a speech in London late yesterday, Jonathan Evans said the uprisings in Arab states posed an “immediate” threat to security as al-Qaeda moved in to take advantage of instability in the region.
“Today, parts of the Arab world have once more become a permissive environment for al-Qaeda,” Evans said, according to the text of his speech on MI5’s Website. “This is the completion of a cycle -- al-Qaeda first moved to Afghanistan in the 1990s due to pressure in their Arab countries of origin. They moved on to Pakistan after the fall of the Taliban. And now some are heading home to the Arab world again.”
“And a small number of British would-be jihadis are also making their way to Arab countries to seek training and opportunities for militant activity, as they do in Somalia and Yemen,” he said. “Some will return to the U.K. and pose a threat here.”
Any suggestions that the threat from al-Qaeda in Pakistan has “evaporated” since the assassination of Osama bin Laden last year are misguided, he said. “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.”
Britain has experienced a “credible” terrorist plot about once a year since the September 2001 attacks on the U.S., he said, adding that counter-terrorism methods used against Islamist militants by the security services have improved. “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.”
Evans highlighted the prospect of Iran acting as a state-sponsor of global terrorism, pointing to attacks against Israeli interests and the attempt to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in the U.S.
He also raised the specter of a euro-area collapse leading to the rise of political extremism and said he was working to prevent attacks from lone-wolf extremists such as Anders Breivik, the Norwegian who killed 77 people on July 22.
He also said boards “should consider the vulnerability of their own company to these risks as part of their normal corporate governance -- and they should require their key advisers and suppliers to do the same.”
“One major London listed company with which we have worked estimates that it incurred revenue losses of some 800 million pounds as a result of hostile state cyber attack -- not just through intellectual property loss but also from commercial disadvantage in contractual negotiations,” he said. “They will not be the only corporate victim of these problems.”
He said he is confident the London Olympic Games, which start in a month, will go ahead without disruption. “The games are not an easy target and the fact that we have disrupted multiple terrorist plots here and abroad in recent years demonstrates that the U.K. as a whole is not an easy target for terrorism,” he said.