LONDON: Britain’s domestic intelligence chief warned during a rare public speech on Tuesday that the terrorist threat the country faced had accelerated at an alarming pace and was worse now than at any time in his 34-year career.
MI5 Director General Andrew Parker said his agency, also known as the Security Service, was constantly expanding and upgrading its capability, but cannot realistically prevent all attacks targeting civilians.
“In 2017, with all that has happened and much that has not, it is clear that we are contending with an intense UK terrorist threat from Islamist extremists,” Parker told journalists in London.
“That threat is multi-dimensional, evolving rapidly and operating at a scale and pace we’ve not seen before”.
He noted a “dramatic upshift” in the threat this year, with successful attacks in London and Manchester that killed 36 people combined.
Parker said: “Twenty attacks in the UK have been foiled over the past four years. Many more will have been prevented by the early interventions we and the police make. There have been a record number of terrorism-related arrests: 379 in the year to June”.
He said continental Europe had faced a similar surge, particularly in France, Belgium, Germany and Spain.
“The scale at which we are operating is greater than ever before,” he said.
Parker said MI5 has more than 500 live investigations involving roughly 3 000 people known to be involved in extremist activities.
In addition, he said, more than 20 000 individuals had been scrutinised in the past for possible terror ties and there were undoubtedly “violent extremists” who had thus far not been detected by the Security Service.
Stop every attack
The risk is further heightened by the possible return to Britain of citizens who joined the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, Parker said.
He said MI5 was well-equipped to cope with the deepening threat, with its ranks set to grow from 4 000 to 5 000 over the next few years.
Parker cautioned, however, that it is impossible to stop every attack.
“Attacks will occur sometimes because this is a free society, a liberal democracy, and we do not monitor everybody all the time,” he said. “Nor would we want to live in a country that was like that”.
The director called on technology companies to work with the government on preventing their social media platforms from being used by extremists for communications that cannot be monitored.