London: The UK is contending with an “intense” terrorist threat from Islamist extremists with as many as 20 attacks foiled in the past four years, Security Service MI5 chief Andrew Parker has said.
In a rare public speech here yesterday, the Director- General of the British Security Service (MI5) revealed that his team is running 500 live operations involving 3,000 individuals linked with extremist activity and that the tempo of counter-terrorism operations was the highest he had seen in his 34-year career at the agency.
“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,” said Parker.
“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.
The intelligence chief said there has been a “dramatic upshift” in terrorist activity this year, which resulted in the London and Manchester attacks which killed a total of 36 people.
He said MI5 staff had been “deeply affected” by the attacks at a personal and professional level.
“They are constantly making tough professional judgments based on fragments of intelligence; pinpricks of light against a dark and shifting canvas,” he said.
Parker admitted that the likelihood was that when an attacked happened, it would be carried out by someone “that we know or have known” – otherwise it would mean they had been looking “in completely the wrong place”.
He revealed that more than 800 individuals had left the UK for Syria and Iraq.
Some had then returned, often many years ago, and had been subject to risk assessment and at least 130 had been killed in conflict fighting for the Islamic State (ISIS) terror network.
The MI5 chief 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.
He also stressed that international cooperation remained vital and revealed there was a joint operational centre for counter-terrorism based in the Netherlands, where security service officers from a range of countries worked together and shared data.