MI5 Director-General Andrew Parker has said the Islamist threat is operating on an unprecedented scale and has increased “dramatically” over the past year.
“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,” he said in a rare public speech.
“That threat is multi-dimensional, evolving rapidly, and operating at a scale and pace we’ve not seen before … We’ve seen a dramatic upshift in the threat this year. It’s at the highest tempo I’ve seen in my 34-year career.
“Today there is more terrorist activity, coming at us more quickly, and it can be harder to detect.”
“Islamist terrorism is an acute and enduring challenge that requires a sustained and comprehensive approach,” he added.
“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 record numbers of terrorism-related arrests: 379 in the year to June. Just in the last seven months, we and the police have thwarted seven terrorist plots by Islamist extremists, intending to maim and kill in Great Britain.
“But tragically four such attacks have taken place, plus a further attack at Finsbury Park. 36 innocent people have lost their lives and many more have been injured or affected in some way by these despicable acts.
“There has been a similar picture across Europe and beyond where we have seen a steady drumbeat of attacks, including particularly in France, Belgium, Germany, and of course recently in Spain.”
European Union Counter-terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove has indeed confirmed that the Islamist threat is acute throughout the EU, estimating “more than 50,000” radicals are operating across the continent.
De Kerchove suggested there are probably many more such radicals making “increasing use of taqiyya … to go unnoticed” — a reference to a form of Islamically-sanctioned deception which is used to hide one’s true beliefs.
Parker also conceded the official estimates may just be the tip of the iceberg, confirming that security services are “running well over 500 live operations involving around 3,000 individuals known to be currently involved in extremist activity [but] risk can also come from returnees from Syria and Iraq and also the growing pool of over 20,000 individuals that we have looked at in the past in our terrorism investigations … there will be some violent extremists not yet known to us at all.”
Despite the unprecedented threat from Islamists in a time of dramatic cutbacks, many of Britain’s cash-strapped police forces appear to be pouring an inordinate amount of time and resources into policing offensive speech online, arguably at the expense of the Special Branch and counter-terrorism units which are supposed to support MI5’s work.
London’s Metropolitan Police Force, home to Counter Terrorism Command, detained 867 out of the 3,395 people known to have been arrested for “offensive” online comments under the Malicious Communications Act in 2016 — an increase of 53 per cent for the force area since 2014.
West Midlands Police has increased the number of arrests for such “crimes” by a remarkable 877 per cent, and total hate crime reports have increased by almost 20,000 between 2015-16 and 2015-17.
However, the number of actual prosecutions for has fallen by 6.2 per cent — suggesting that the great majority of these new arrests and reports have no real legal basis.