Parliamentary Report provides Insight into Current UK Terror Threat

Parliamentary Report provides Insight into Current UK Terror Threat

The Intelligence and Security Committee has published a new annual report covering the work of MI5 and the UK’s other security and intelligence agencies. The Committee, which is appointed by Parliament and reports directly to Parliament, provides independent oversight of the agencies’ work.

Included in this report is a summary of the threat assessment to the UK from international terrorism which is set out below; 


“The UK threat level from international terrorism is SUBSTANTIAL, indicating that an attack is a strong possibility. Al-Qaeda Core has continued to operate despite significant pressure in the federally Administered Tribal Areas (fATA) of Pakistan. The threat from Al-Qaeda has diversified: although all Al-Qaeda affiliates retain significant intent, their capabilities and opportunities vary. The greatest risk of attack on UK soil is posed by Al-Qaeda-inspired but self-organised groups, particularly those who have sought advice and training from extremists in the fATA of Pakistan. UK citizens living or working in areas where extremists operate face a continuing risk of kidnap.The Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) assesses that Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has been pushed back into its safe havens in Yemen. However, the organisation retains the intent and capability to conduct attacks: it therefore represents an enduring threat to the UK. It is likely to take advantage of any opportunity to strike at Western interests in the region and an attack could materialise with little or no notice.In Somalia, al-Shabaab has been weakened as a cohesive group. The Security Service assesses that it is, however, still capable of mounting attacks throughout the region, including against Western targets. Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQM) has been pushed back into remote strongholds by french and Malian military action but it has not been completely neutralised. The attack by an AQM splinter group against the gas facility at In Amenas, Algeria, in January 2013 demonstrated the nature of the threat posed by Islamists in the region to British interests, which is likely to be enduring. However, AQM and its affiliates do not yet pose a direct threat in the UK.”

“The Agencies and JTAC assess that Al-Qaeda elements and individual jihadists in Syria currently represent the most worrying emerging terrorist threat to the UK and the West. There is a risk of extremist elements in Syria taking advantage of the permissive environment to develop external attack plans, including against Western targets. Large numbers of radicalised individuals have been attracted to the country, including significant numbers from the UK and Europe. They are likely to acquire expertise and experience which could significantly increase the threat posed when they return home. furthermore, there is growing concern about the risks around extremist groups in Syria gaining access to regime stocks of chemical weapons. In North Africa, state weakness in the developing democracies of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt offers space for the development of extremist Islamist groups. In Libya, the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi in September 2012 and small scale attacks against UK diplomatic interests demonstrate how this threat can manifest itself. Tunisia is seeing increasing activity by extreme Salafist groups with anti-Western sentiment. In Egypt the authorities arrested an extremist cell which may have been planning attacks in Egypt.”

Northern Ireland-related terrorism

“There continues to be a serious threat of terrorism in Northern Ireland, principally from dissident republican terrorist groups, and the threat level in Northern Ireland remains SEVERE (an attack is highly likely). The Northern Ireland-related terrorist threat to the rest of the UK was reduced in October 2012 to MODERATE (an attack is possible, but not likely).Whilst the dissident republican groups lack a coherent political agenda and have little popular support, the threat remains serious. In 2012 there were 24 attacks (compared with 26 in 2011 and 40 in 2010). While the majority of these were unsophisticated, several displayed significant lethal intent. Dissident republicans will attack any security force target, depending on opportunity. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) remains the main focus largely because of its visibility; last year, a number of police officers narrowly escaped injury. In 2012, the emergence of a new dissident republican group (calling itself the IRA) following the merger of the Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA), a group of unaffiliated dissident republicans and a republican vigilante group reversed the trend towards fragmentation of dissident republican groups. This new group was responsible for the murder of prison officer David Black on 1 November 2012 and has attempted a number of attacks which have been disrupted by the security forces. There are indications that other dissident republican groups have become more active in response to the emergence of this new grouping. “

The cyber threat

“The UK faces a threat of hostile cyber activity from criminals, other states and, potentially, terrorists. There is major activity by criminals seeking to defraud individuals and businesses. However, the internet also provides new opportunities for states to conduct espionage against the UK. State-sponsored cyber espionage is happening on a large scale and targets intellectual property and sensitive commercial information across the UK economy, in addition to government classified information. The UK also faces a threat of cyber attacks that result in the disruption of a computer network. There have been several such incidents against US financial institutions and foreign energy companies. Most of these have taken the form of ‘denial of service’ attacks (where a huge amount of data is sent to a network or system in order to prevent legitimate users from accessing a site or service). Separately, some have involved the deletion of large amounts of data from corporate computer systems.”

Hostile Foreign Activity

“The threat to British interests from espionage remains high and the UK continues to be a high-priority target for a number of foreign intelligence services. These services actively seek to obtain official and commercially sensitive intelligence in their governments’ national interests. The commercial sector as well as government, technology, defences and security interests are at risk from both ‘traditional’ espionage and hostile activity conducted in cyberspace.”

Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

“The UK continues to support international efforts to prevent WMD proliferation in the Middle East and North Korea. Both are of significant concern. Iran continues to expand its nuclear programme and has hitherto failed to engage seriously in negotiations to address international concerns. The threat to regional stability remains extremely high if Iran develops or acquires viable nuclear weapons technology, or reneges on its non-proliferation treaty obligations.”

Read the Intelligence and Security Committee Report in full.