UK M15 says terror threat evolving jihadists recruited younger
November 5, 2007
MI5 'evolving' to meet terror threat
The terrorist threat is evolving rapidly and has not yet peaked. That was the message from the new director general of MI5 Jonathan Evans in his first speech.
The threat has evolved in a number of ways in the last year since Evans' predecessor Eliza Manningham-Buller gave a dramatic speech in London outlining the scale of the threat.
One manifestation of that change is the way in which al-Qaeda conspiracies in the UK are being driven from an increasing range of overseas countries.
The threat emanating from core al-Qaeda based in the tribal areas on the Pakistan and Afghanistan border remains the number one concern, senior British counter-terrorism officials say.
People continue to travel there for training - often going to great lengths to make the journey.
But there is now increasing evidence that other regions are also the source of training and of planning attacks against the UK.
Evans warns that al-Qaeda in Iraq is aspiring to promote terrorist attacks outside of the country.
Other al-Qaeda 'franchises' also pose a growing threat, including al-Qaeda in East Africa which has been using Somalia as a base for training and planning including against the UK.
Other senior counter-terrorism officials also talk of countries like Nigeria and Bangladesh being of increasing concern and say that the source of potential threat within the UK increasingly comes not just from ethnic communities with links back to Pakistan, but from groups with other backgrounds.
The emergence of an al-Qaeda franchise in North Africa, centred on Algeria, is of particular concern to some European countries like France although so far it has shown less sign of targeting the UK.
Across Europe, Evans noted, the last 12 months have seen an increase in attack planning although he says it is too early to assess with confidence what exactly this means.
The range of people becoming involved in the UK is also changing, with young people increasingly being targeted - some as young as 15 or 16.
The old idea that radicalisation was centred on mosques has now evolved to one in which the process is seen as often taking place within loose social networks of friends.
Young people themselves are often radicalising others, using youth clubs or the internet.
Identifying those within communities who are engaged in radicalising and recruitment is a priority but not always easy, according to officials.
Evans makes clear that MI5 is adapting to try and cope with these changes by growing in size, moving much more of its work into the regions as well as by co-operating with other partners both within the UK and internationally.
MI5 has grown rapidly in recent years with a target of 4,000 staff by 2011 but with at least 2,000 individuals believed to pose a threat to national security, basic maths says that the service has to prioritise among those targets because it is impossible to keep tabs on all of them all the time.
"Every decision by the security service to investigate someone entails a decision not to investigate someone else," he said.
MI5 was criticised for not investigating Mohammed Siddique Khan who went on to kill on 7 July 2005 after he emerged in another counter-terrorist investigation.
Evans was keen to emphasise that this is likely to happen again in future cases because of the sheer numbers and because of the way in which extremists know each other - they do not operate in the small, compartmentalised way that other terrorist groups have.
This could lead to questions once again in the wake of an attack but does offer advantages in terms of tracing individuals and their connections faster.
Evans also brought up the issue of prioritisation and resources in a surprisingly direct criticism of Moscow, saying that Russian covert activity in the UK meant that resources which could be directed against terrorism were instead being used to keep tabs on Russian intelligence officers.
Evans also stressed that terrorist attacks are the visible manifestations of a deeper problem whose root is ideological and that combating the ideology requires a much broader strategic effort across government.
Whitehall officials concede that of the government's counter-terrorist strategy, the area which has been struggling most is that focused on preventing terrorism by dealing with radicalisations.
However successful MI5 and the police may be at pursuing existing terrorists, the real challenge is preventing more individuals joining their cause - and especially the young. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/7079621.stm
-----------------------November 6, 2007
Children of 15 groomed to carry out terrorist acts, MI5 head says
The terror attack on Glasgow airport in June: the MI5 chief said that terror attacks on the UK were being orchestrated in Pakistan, Somalia and IraqMichael Evans, Defence Editor, and Philip Webster, Political Editor
Teenagers as young as 15 are being recruited by terrorist groups in Britain, swelling the number of people suspected of being involved in terrorism to 4,000, the head of MI5 said yesterday.
In his first public speech since taking over as Director-General of MI5 in April, Jonathan Evans indicated that the number of terrorist suspects has more than doubled in the past year.
Mr Evans painted an alarming picture of youngsters being turned into extremists, saying: "Terrorists are methodically and intentionally targeting young people and children in this country.
"They are radicalising, indoctrinating and grooming young, vulnerable people to carry out acts of terrorism."
In an address to the Society of Editors in Manchester, he said: "This year, we have seen individuals as young as 15 and 16 implicated in terrorist-related activity."
Mr Evans, who has spent most of his career in MI5 in counter-terrorism, said there remained "a steady flow of new recruits to the extremist cause".
In a speech in October last year, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, his predecessor, said there were 1,600 people on MI5's books who needed watching.
However, Mr Evans said the figure of known suspects had jumped to "at least 2,000", but he admitted: "We suspect that there are as many again that we don't yet know of." Police sources said yesterday that they were watching 500 people who were involved in at least 80 separate terrorist plots.
Speaking with the approval of Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, Mr Evans outlined the pressures facing his service on the eve of the Queen's Speech to Parliament today in which she will announce a counter-terrorism Bill, one of the aims of which will be to extend the time granted to the police to hold terror suspects from 28 to 56 days.
Gordon Brown will confirm as the new session of Parliament gets under way that he believes there is a case for having a higher limit to deal with some cases, although he is unlikely to put a figure on the timescale. But proposals to double the limit to 56 days are favoured by ministers.
Juveniles can be detained in much the same way as adults under the Terrorism Act. There is provision to hold them at the high-security Paddington Green police station but they have to be held in a detention room rather than a cell and must have access to an "appropriate adult" as well as to a solicitor.
Although Mr Evans made no specific reference to this controversial political issue, he said: "The terrorists may be indiscrimate in their violence against us, but we should not be so in our response to them."
David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, seized on Mr Evans's speech to highlight the need to be cautious about any extended counter-terrorist powers.
"In order to tackle the root causes of extremism he [Mr Evans] identifies, we must do two things. First, ban those groups fuelling hatred and violence against this country; second, as Mr Evans warns in clear terms, we must avoid an indiscriminate response that would drive young Muslims into the arms of fanatics and destroy the trust of local communities," Mr Davis said.
Mr Evans said that al-Qaeda's campaign against Britain was now being orchestrated not just from Pakistan but from several other countries around the world. He identified Somalia, Iraq and Algeria.
He added: "There is no doubt that al-Qaeda in Iraq aspires to promote terrorist attacks outside Iraq."
There was also "training activity and terrorist planning" in East Africa, particularly Somalia – "which is focused on the UK". The so-called al-Qaeda "franchise" had also spread to Algeria.
Since the attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, there had also been a number of examples of "serious al-Qaeda-related terrorist activity" in Europe; and in the past 12 months there had been an increase in the planning of attacks in European countries, including in Germany, Denmark and Austria.
He said there had been more than 200 terrorist convictions in Britain alone since 9/11.
Mr Evans admitted his "disappointment" that with such threats facing Britain, he was still having to divert "significant amounts of equipment, money and staff" to dealing with espionage operations run by the Russians and Chinese.
"They are resources which I would far rather devote to countering the threat from international terrorism," he said.
The Russians and Chinese in particular, he said, were increasingly using sophisticated technical means to spy on Britain, "using the internet to penetrate computer networks".
However, with an increase in funding provided in the latest Comprehensive Spending Review, Mr Evans disclosed that he now planned to boost MI5's staffing levels to 4,000 by 2011. Under previous plans announced by Dame Eliza, MI5's manpower was in the process of being increased to 3,500 by next year.
Mr Evans said that with eight regional MI5 offices now set up, 25 per cent of the staff would be working outside the London headquarters at Thames House, in Millbank, by 2011.
He said that recruiting was going well, but he was concerned about a drop in the number of women applying to join MI5.
"This is a paradox, considering that two of the last three directors-generals were women [Dame Eliza and, before her, Dame Stella Rimington], so we are now exploring ways to remedy this," he said.
UK children 'groomed by al Qaida'
Al Qaida has begun methodically "grooming" children and young people to carry out terror attacks in Britain, the head of MI5 has warned.
In his first public speech since becoming director general in April, Jonathan Evans said the Security Service now knew of at least 2,000 individuals who posed a "direct threat to national security and public safety" because of their support for terrorism.
However, he said that MI5's efforts to counter the terrorist threat were being hampered by the continuing need to divert resources to tackle "unreconstructed" spying by old Cold War adversaries such as Russia and China.
Addressing the Society of Editors Conference in Manchester, Mr Evans said that the number of individuals identified as having links with terrorism had risen by 400 since the last assessment by his predecessor, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, a year ago. And MI5 suspected that there could be another 2,000 whom they knew nothing about, he said.
Mr Evans warned that the terrorist problem had not yet reached its peak and he endorsed Prime Minister Gordon Brown's assessment that Britain was facing a "generation-long challenge" to defeat it.
"Terrorist attacks we have seen against the UK are not simply random plots by disparate and fragmented groups," he said.
"The majority of these attacks, successful or otherwise, have taken place because al Qaida has a clear determination to mount terrorist attacks against the United Kingdom. This remains the case today, and there is no sign of it reducing."
Mr Evans highlighted the way that al Qaida was targeting vulnerable young people as terrorist recruits, with teenagers as young as 15 and 16 years old having been implicated in terrorist plots. "As I speak, terrorists are methodically and intentionally targeting young people and children in this country," he said. "They are radicalising, indoctrinating and grooming young, vulnerable people to carry out acts of terrorism."
Mr Evans said that the terror plots were being directed from a widening range of countries beyond the tribal areas of Pakistan where al Qaida's "core leadership" was based. There were now signs that al Qaida in Iraq was seeking to promote attacks outside that country while terrorist training and planning against the UK was being carried out in war-torn Somalia.
Mr Evans said it was a matter of "some disappointment" that MI5 was still having to deal with "unreconstructed attempts" at spying by countries like China and Russia - which still had the same number of undeclared intelligence officers in the UK as it did during the Cold War. "They are resources which I would far rather devote to countering the threat from international terrorism - a threat to the whole international community, not just the UK," he said.