Afghan War 'has dispersed al-Qaida'
26 June 2012
The war in Afghanistan has forced terror network al-Qaida's operations to spread into Arab nations creating "short-term risks" to UK security, the head of MI5 has warned.
The security service's director general Jonathan Evans said that Britain had been subject to an average of one credible terrorist threat each year since 2000, the latest being a plot by al-Qaida in Yemen to blow up an airliner over the Atlantic, which Evans said was "narrowly averted".
Evans suggested that the war in Afghanistan had had an effect on the source of terrorism, if only to drive it back into Arab nations.
"Whereas a few years ago 75 per cent of the priority casework addressed by my service had some sort of Pakistan and/or Afghanistan dimension, thanks to our efforts and those of our international partners that figure has reduced and now stands at less than 50 per cent," he said.
"We appear to be moving from a period of a deep and focussed threat to one where the threat is less monolithic but wider. Al-Qaida affiliates in Yemen, Somalia and the Sahel have become more dangerous as al-Qaida in Pakistan has declined and we see increasing levels of cooperation between al-Qaida groups in various parts of the world."
Following the Arab Spring, some parts of the Arab world had become a "permissive environment" for al-Qaida, he said.
"This is the completion of a cycle – al-Qaida 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. So we will have to manage the short term risks if there is to be a longer-term reward from the Arab Spring."
During his speech to the Worshipful Company of Security Professionals Evans said that state-sponsored terrorism by Iran or Hezbollah could also return as pressure over the country's nuclear programme continued.
"We have seen in recent months a series of attempted terrorist plots against Israeli interests in India, Azerbaijan and elsewhere.," he said.
"The US authorities last year uncovered a plot by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to mount an attack on the Saudi Ambassador in America, and of course the IRGC leads straight back to the Iranian leadership. So a return to State-sponsored terrorism by Iran or its associates, such as Hezbollah, cannot be ruled out as pressure on the Iranian leadership increases."
"So far, established terrorist groups have not posed a significant threat in this medium," he said. "But they are aware of the potential to use cyber vulnerabilities to attack critical infrastructure and I would expect them to gain more capability to do so in future."