Tiny Minority of Extremists Alert. “Terror threat in UK ‘approaching critical’,” by Duncan Gardham for the Telegraph, October 2:
The threat level is at the “severe end of severe” according to sources who say the level of “chatter” among terrorist cells has increased in recent months.
The security services say they are now operating at full stretch to counter the elevated threat.
Britain’s close relationship with the US has been particularly inflammatory after cross-border raids into Pakistan by American forces.
Security officials had considered downgrading the official threat level from “severe” but that plan has now been abandoned as a result of the increase in terrorist activity.
A senior counter terrorism source said: “We were looking at the threat level six months ago and asking how severe is severe? But it is October now and we are at the severe end of severe.
“Al-Qaeda’s core exists on the Afghan-Pakistan border. The arrangement of people changes at a frighteningly rapid pace but they have enough people to replace them and there are people who are looking at us and at external operations, some at this country in particular.
“We are not chasing shadows. These are potential threats to security and life. Police and the security network are operating at full capacity.”
The source said a review by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, which looks at information from MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, had considered downgrading the threat from “severe,” meaning an attack is highly likely, to “substantial,” meaning an attack is a strong possibility, but that move was abandoned after the level of activity increased.
The assessment, which has five levels, has been considered severe since the arrest of the men allegedly plotting to attack transatlantic airliners in 2006 but moved up to “critical,” meaning an attack is imminent, during last year’s car bomb alert which led to the attack on Glasgow airport.
It is now only just below that level.
MI5 is watching around 200 networks across Britain and MI6 and GCHQ are constantly monitoring communications on the crucial Afghan-Pakistan border area.
Although key commanders have been killed in air strikes, one of the particular concerns is the disappearance of Rashid Rauf from Birmingham, an alleged al-Qaeda mastermind who escaped from Pakistani custody last December.
Security officials are also worried about threats which may come from off the radar.
They are particularly worried by lone operators who “self-radicalise” over the internet and stock-pile chemicals from domestic sources.
“They are discreet from traditional networks and have a very small intelligence signature which makes them hard to pick up,” the source said.
There is also a fear that some in the Somali community in Britain could have “potential connections” with al-Qaeda terrorists.
Last week’s attack on the US embassy in the Yemen means security officials now consider the Arabian peninsular “particularly combustible.”
“Over the past year, al-Qaeda has invested huge energy in outlying organisations,” the source said.
That’s not exactly “imploding.”
But it is the lone operators who pose the biggest threat, particularly since attempts to cut off the supply of “kitchen chemicals” used in home made bombs, such as hydrogen peroxide and ammonium nitrate, have been unsuccessful because they are so widely available.
“We are doing a lot of research work into the detection of explosives at train stations and so on but this really demonstrates the importance of preventing radicalisation,” the source said.
But as long as officials are unwilling to engage the ideology behind the “radicalization,” they will not be doing everything they could to prevent attacks.