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Head of MI5 Andrew Parker: Britain is facing 'worst terror threat I've ever seen in 34 years'

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 17/10/2017 Francesca Gillett

a man wearing a suit and tie © Provided by Independent Print Limited The head of MI5 has said Britain is now facing the worst terror threat he has ever seen in his 34-year career.

Andrew Parker, director general of the security service, gave a rare public speech, calling the threat “multi-dimensional, evolving rapidly and operating at a scale and pace we’ve not seen before”.

Another 20 terrorist attacks on the UK were foiled over the past four years and “many more” were prevented, he said.

The intelligence chief said there has been a “dramatic upshift” this year, which resulted in the London and Manchester attacks which killed a total of 36 people.

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Mr Parker added it's impossible for MI5 to stop every attack, but that the service is identifying and disrupting threats all the time.

"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," Mr Parker told journalists in London.

"Twenty attacks in the UK have been foiled over the past four years," he said. "Many more will have been prevented by the early interventions we and the police make. There have been a record number of terrorism-related arrests: 379 in the year to June."

He said continental Europe has faced a similar surge, particularly in France, Belgium, Germany and Spain.

Video: How do the UK's terror threat levels work? (PA) 

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"The scale at which we are operating is greater than ever before," he said.

Mr Parker said MI5 has more than 500 live investigations involving roughly 3,000 people known to be involved in extremist activities.

In addition, he said, more than 20,000 individuals have been scrutinized in the past for possible terror ties and there are undoubtedly "violent extremists" who have thus far not been detected by the Security Service.

The risk is further heightened by the possible return to Britain of citizens who joined the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, Mr Parker said.

He said MI5 is well-equipped to cope with the deepening threat, with its ranks set to grow from 4,000 to 5,000 over the next few years.

But he added: “Attacks will occur sometimes because this is a free society, a liberal democracy, and we do not monitor everybody all the time. "Nor would we want to live in a country that was like that." 

The director called on technology companies to work with the government on preventing their social media platforms from being used by extremists for communications that cannot be monitored.

When asked if Facebook and Google were doing enough on this front, Mr Parker declined to discuss specific companies.

He praised advancements in communications technology, but said an "unintended side effect" has been to make it easier for extremists to avoid legal monitoring by using apps, including many that provide encryption, to avoid detection. He said companies should to more to prevent this abuse of their communications systems.

"For the companies there must be an ethical responsibility," Mr Parker said. "The way to move forward is in partnerships together.

Additional reporting by Press Association.

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