The head of MI5 has given a chilling assessment of the scale of the terror threat in the UK, warning it will last “a generation”.
Eliza Manningham-Buller said that the Security Service was dealing with up to 30 alleged “mass casualty” terror plots against British targets in the UK and abroad, according to BBC reports, with 200 terror cell networks under surveillance.
Some of them involved plans for suicide attacks and some were being directed by al-Qaida.
Ms Manningham-Buller said MI5 and the British police were tackling 200 groups or networks totalling more than 1,600 identified individuals in the UK who were “actively engaged in plotting or facilitating terrorist acts“.
It was reported that Ms Manningham-Buller says terror groups are recruiting young Muslims from schools.
Ms Manningham-Buller’s assessment came in her first public speech since the July 7 terror attacks last year, to an invited audience of academics in east London yesterday.
The BBC’s security correspondent Frank Gardner, who was in the audience, told Radio 4’s The World Tonight that she warned of the prospect that weapons of mass destruction could be used in future terror attacks in the UK.
“Today we see the use of home-made improvised explosive devices, but I suggest tomorrow’s threat will include the use of chemicals, bacteriological agents, radioactive materials and even nuclear technology,” she said.
Ms Manningham-Buller told her audience that MI5’s caseload of UK-based terror sympathisers – many of them British citizens – had increased by 80% since January, the BBC reported.
She voiced concern that many of those involved were young men and teenagers as young as 16, who were being radicalised by friends and by material viewed on the internet.
She quoted statistics suggesting there was widespread sympathy for terrorism within Britain.
“If the opinion polls conducted in the UK since July are only broadly accurate, over 100,000 of our citizens consider that the July bomb attacks in London were justified,” she said.
The Times quoted Ms Manningham-Buller as saying: “More and more people are moving from passive sympathy towards active terrorism through being radicalised or indoctrinated by friends, families, in organised training events here and overseas. Young teenagers are being groomed to be suicide bombers.”
She said she was alarmed by the “scale and speed” of radicalisation in the wake of the July 7 bombings.
“It is the youth who are being actively targeted, groomed, radicalised and set on a path that frighteningly quickly could end in their involvement in mass murder of their fellow citizens or their early death in a suicide attack or on a foreign battlefield.
“Killing oneself and others in response is an attractive option for some citizens of this country and others around the world.
“(The) threat is serious, is growing, and will, I believe, be with us for a generation. It is a sustained campaign, not a series of isolated incidents. It aims to wear down our will to resist.”
Ms Manningham-Buller set out the scale of activity which MI5 had uncovered.
“My officers and the police are working to contend with some 200 groupings or networks totalling over 1,600 identified individuals – and there will be many we don’t know – who are actively engaged in plotting or facilitating terrorist acts here and overseas.”
Those terror networks “often have links back to al Qaida in Pakistan and through those links, al-Qaida gives guidance and training to its largely British foot-soldiers here on an extensive and growing scale,” she said.