Theresa May: UK terror threat ‘at 9/11 level’

Home Secretary Theresa May. Picture: Getty
Home Secretary Theresa May. Picture: Getty
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Home Secretary Theresa May has warned the terror threat to the UK is now “perhaps greater than it ever has been”.

In a keynote speech in London, she said the government would place a new bill in parliament tomorrow to deal with the increasing threat of terrorism sparked by the rise of Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq.

Within the new bill, which should pass into law before the general election, is a legal requirement by schools, prisons and councils to put in place policies or programmes to stop would-be extremists from being drawn into terrorism.

Legislation will be clarified to make sure insurance companies can no longer foot the bill for terrorist ransoms; suspected foreign fighters will be blocked from returning to the UK, and powers will be re-introduced to relocate terror suspects across the country.

The Home Secretary revealed the full extent of the anti-extremist proposals as police launched a counter-terrorism awareness week, which will see more than 6,000 people receive briefings at 80 venues across the country, including schools, universities, airports, shopping centres, cinemas and farms.

Human rights campaigners lashed out at Mrs May’s tough proposals, labelling the plans “another chilling recipe for injustice”.

But she told an audience at the Royal United Services Institute that she had daily briefings on terror threats to the UK and that it was “the most time consuming part of my job”.

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She said that since she became Home Secretary in 2010, the security services had prevented 40 terrorist plots including an attack on the stock exchange in London, a plan for a Mumbai-style attack in which gunmen went through streets shooting indiscriminately and an attempt to assassinate a British ambassador.

Referring to the murder of soldier Lee Rigby in London last year, she said: “Almost all of these attacks have been prevented but, as the IRA once boasted, they only have to be lucky once.”

She said in the same period, 753 people had been arrested under suspicion of terrorist-related activities, 212 had been charged and 148 convicted, with 138 behind bars and 13 deportations, including that of “hate preacher” Abu Hamza.

“This legislation is important, the substance is right, the time is right and the way in which it has been developed is right,” Mrs May said.

“It is not a knee-jerk response to a sudden perceived threat. It is a properly-considered, thought-through set of proposals that will help to keep us safe at a time of very significant danger.

“We are engaged in a struggle that is fought on many fronts and in many forms. It is a struggle that will go on for many years. And the threat we face right now is perhaps greater than it ever has been – we must have the powers we need to defend ourselves.”

A statutory duty will be placed on named organisations – such as colleges, universities, the police and probation providers – to help deter radicalisation and, where organisations fail, ministers will be able to issue court-enforced directions to them, Mrs May said.

Elsewhere, terrorism prevention and investigations measures will be strengthened to re-introduce powers in the previous Labour government’s control orders to relocate terror suspects around the country.

Police are to be handed powers in the new bill to force internet firms to hand over details that could help identify suspected terrorists and paedophiles, while police and border staff will be given the power to seize the passports of terror suspects.

Earlier, Britain’s chief counter-terror police officer warned the threat to the UK from jihadists would remain for “several years”.

Scotland Yard’s assistant commissioner Mark Rowley, the national policing lead for counter-terrorism, said the extremist threat would continue even if the violence in Syria and Iraq subsided.

Asked whether the current terror climate would continue for at least five years, Mr Rowley said: “Even if the awfulness that’s happening in Syria and Iraq was miraculously to get sorted in the next year or so, there are other countries across parts of Africa and elsewhere in the world which are in parlous states and the potential for this type of terrorism to reach back into Europe to continue in other theatres is equally great.

“Whether it continues in that theatre or whether it moves into other places, I think there’s a high prospect of it continuing in this nature for several years.”

IN NUMBERS

500 British citizens travelled to Iraq or Syria to join Islamic State (IS)

40 terrorist plots prevented in UK since 2010

753 people arrested on suspicion of terrorism-related activities

212 charged with terrorist activities since 2010

148 convicted of terrorist-related activities since 2010

138 would-be terrorists put behind bars since 2010

13 deportations carried out since 2010

65,000 items inciting terrorism removed from web

46,000 internet terror items removed since last December

61 people barred from UK on national security grounds

72 barred from UK because “presence would not be conducive to the national good”

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