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Arab Spring provided new breeding ground for British terrorists – spy chief
06-26-2012, 11:56 PM,
Arab Spring provided new breeding ground for British terrorists – spy chief
Quote:Jonathan Evans said the terror network has taken advantage of the unstable region, in the wake of last year’s revolutions, to spread its influence and create new bases for attacks.

British would-be jihadis are known to be receiving training in the likes of Libya and Egypt, mirroring what has already happened in the Yemen and Somalia.

And they could return to attack the UK in what is a “new and worrying development”, he said.

Mr Evans, the Director General of MI5, warned of the emerging threats in a rare speech, his first in almost two years.

In his talk, he also:

: Revealed that the intelligence services and police are preparing for a potential threat from extremists and even lone wolf terrorists should the Eurozone collapse.

: Warned State-sponsored and criminal cyber attacks risked “real world damage” including one British company which has suffered estimated losses of £800m after being hacked.

: Suggested a potential return to State-sponsored terrorism by Iran.

: Said it would be “extraordinary and self-defeating” if the Government’s proposed new email and phone snooping powers did not go ahead.

Popular revolts across Arab nations were last year welcomed around the world and resulted in, among others, the end of Hosni Mubarak’s reign in Egypt and Muammar Gaddafi regime in Libya.

Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, described events at the time as “incredibly exciting”.

But in the inaugural Lord Mayor’s Annual Defence and Security Lecture in London last night, Mr Evans warned a new terror threat has emerged from an “Arab world in radical transition”.

He said while the events offered long term hope there was a “more immediate problem” as al-Qaeda has returned to its native home.

“Today parts of the Arab world have once more become a permissive environment for al-Qaeda.

“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.

“Some will return to the UK and pose a threat here. This is a new and worrying development and could get worse as events unfold.”

Figures last year suggested more than 100 Britons have received training by terror groups in Somalia and it is feared as many are now being prepared for terror attacks across Yemen, Egypt and Libya.

And he signalled there could be a steady stream of new recruits.

“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,” he said.

“We see them regularly in our intelligence investigations. And others in various parts of the world have the same ambitions.”

Mr Evans said it is a sign of al-Qaeda’s increasing focus away from their previous strongholds of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He said a few years ago three quarters of his service’s work centred on those two regions but not less than half does.

“al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen, Somalia and the Sahel have become more dangerous as al-Qaeda in Pakistan has declined and we see increasing levels of co-operation between al-Qaeda groups in various parts of the world,” he said.

He said the network is also active in Syria and across Mali and West Africa “where the UK has political, economic and demographic ties”.

He also warned against suggestions that al-Qaeda’s threat has “evaporated” following the death of Osama bin Laden and significant victories in Pakistan.

Britain has “experienced a credible terrorist attack plot about once a year since 9/11”.

And Ireland, where republican terrorism is growing again, has shown that “terrorist problems have a long tail”.

However, tactics and methods by the security services and police have improved over the years in combating Islamic terrorism.

He said: “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.”

Mr Evans raised the spectre of Iran actively sponsoring terrorism around the world.

He highlighted recent attacks against Israeli interests and the attempt to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in America.

“So a return to State-sponsored terrorism by Iran or its associates, such as Hizbollah, cannot be ruled out as pressure on the Iranian leadership increases,” he said.

That, coupled with Iran’s nuclear intentions, also raised the chilling prospect of a dirty bomb attack.

The MI5 chief also publicly entered the row over monitoring emails and phone calls for the first time.

The Government has faced criticism over plans to force providers to keep records of customer phone calls, emails and internet activity to allow the police and security services access to it.

Mr Evans risked stoking the row after insisting it was necessary to keep up with criminals and terrorists who take advantage of new communications technology.

“It would be extraordinary and self-defeating if terrorists and criminals were able to adopt new technologies in order to facilitate their activities while the law enforcement and security agencies were not permitted to keep pace with those same technological changes,” he said.

And on the Olympics, he said he remained confident despite it being an “attractive target for our enemies” and “no doubt some terrorist networks have thought about whether they could pull off an attack”.

He said: “But 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 UK as a whole is not an easy target for terrorism.

“We are far from complacent. A lot of hard work still lies ahead and there is no such thing as guaranteed security.

“But I think that we shall see a successful and memorable Games this summer in London.”
The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall. - Che Guevara

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