Arab Spring spawns breeding ground for UK terrorists

Head of British intelligence says terror network has taken advantage of political unrest
Arab Spring spawns breeding ground for UK terrorists
Al Qaeda militants are using the countries which toppled leaders in the Arab Spring as bases to train British-born terrorists.
By Claire Valdini
Tue 26 Jun 2012 11:49 AM

Al Qaeda militants are using the countries which toppled leaders in the Arab Spring as bases to train British-born terrorists for potential attacks on the UK, the head of Britain's internal intelligence service has warned.

In his first public speech for nearly two years MI5 Security Service director general Jonathan Evans warned the terror group is taking advantage of instability in the region.

“Today parts of the Arab world have once more become a permissive environment for Al Qaeda,” Evans said in a speech at the Lord Mayor’s Annual Defence and Security Lecture in London.

“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,” he said.

“This is a new and worrying development and could get worse,” he added.

The Arab Spring, which toppled the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, forced Yemen’s president to step down, triggered an uprising in Syria and led to unrest in Bahrain, was welcomed by a number of Western leaders who hoped it would bring new prosperity and freedom to the region.

Some 100-200 British residents, mostly men between the ages of 18 and 30, are thought to be involved in militant activities in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa.

Al Qaeda is increasing its focus away from Afghanistan and Pakistan and turning its attentions to Syria, Yemen and Libya, said Evans.

“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.

The network is also active in Syria and across Mali and West Africa, he added.

Evans, whose speech also revealed that MI5 is preparing for a potential threat from extremists should the euro zone collapse and warned that a rise in the level of cyber attacks is threatening government and businesses, said preparations for London’s Olympic Games were going well despite being “an attractive target for our enemies.”

“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,” he said.

“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.”

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