Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron speaks at a news
conference in Downing St, central London. REUTERS/Paul
Britain has raised its terrorism alert to the
second-highest level, and Prime Minister David Cameron says the
Islamic State (IS) group operating in Syria and Iraq poses the
country's greatest ever security risk.
The government said there was no evidence an attack was
imminent but the assessment of the latest intelligence by
security chiefs justified elevating the international threat
level to "severe", meaning a strike was "highly likely".
"What we're facing in Iraq now with ISIL (IS) is a greater
and deeper threat to our security than we have known before,"
said Cameron, adding he was "absolutely satisfied that ISIL
... would make specific threats to the UK".
It is the first time since mid-2011 that Britain has been
placed on this grade of alert by the Joint Terrorism Analysis
Centre (JTAC), the independent body responsible for setting
the national threat level.
The national threat level was first published in 2006, just
over a year after four British Islamists carried out suicide
bombings on London's transport network killing 52 people.
Police chiefs said raising the level to severe would mean a
rise in the level of visible patrols, along with other
security and protection measures.
White House spokesman John Earnest said: "This is a threat
that the United States has been focused on. We've been
coordinating closely with our allies, both the Brits, but
others in Europe, about countering this threat and mitigating
The British move comes less than two weeks after a video
released by IS showed the beheading of U.S. journalist James
Foley, by a masked knifeman apparently speaking English with
a London accent. An investigation to identify the suspected
attacker is in train.
Foley's murder prompted demands for extra security measures
to tackle Britons travelling to the Middle East to join
militant groups. Officials have warned that some who had gone
to Syria or Iraq might return to Britain to carry out
British and European authorities have been warning for many
months the Syrian conflict posed a serious terrorism threat,
but no specific reason was given why JTAC had raised its
"The increase in the threat level is related to developments
in Syria and Iraq where terrorist groups are planning attacks
against the West," Home Secretary (interior minister) Theresa
May said in a statement.
"Some of those plots are likely to involve foreign fighters
who have travelled there from the UK and Europe to take part
in those conflicts."
BRITONS IN IRAQ, SYRIA
Officials estimate at least 500 Britons have travelled to
Syria or Iraq, where IS has seized large swathes of
territory, and London's police chief Bernard Hogan-Howe said
on Wednesday it was believed some 250 had since returned.
Counter-terrorism police say there have been 69 arrests
linked to fighting in Syria this year, a fivefold rise in the
arrest rate compared to last year.
Cameron said he would unveil new laws on Monday to make it
harder for Britons to travel to Syria and Iraq to fight, and
to tackle radicalisation among Britain's 2.7 million Muslims.
"This will include further steps to stop people travelling,
with new legislation that will make it easier to take
people's passports away," he told a news conference, adding
the cause of the threat was a "poisonous ideology of Islamic
The alert has twice been raised to the highest level of
critical - meaning an attack is imminent - after a plot to
blow up transatlantic airliners was thwarted in 2006 and the
next year after attempted car bombings in London and Glasgow.
Security chiefs say they have managed to stop at least one
major terrorism plot every year since the 2005 bombings,
known as the 7/7 attacks, but last year an off-duty soldier
was murdered on a London street by two British Muslim
converts in what the government described as a terrorist
However, Muslims and some experts have cautioned against
Britain rushing through new laws. Muslim groups have
criticised a "knee-jerk" reaction from politicians which they
said could simply backfire.