West 'closer to another 9/11' says General Lord Richards
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The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan will provide a “morale boost” to extremists plotting attacks elsewhere, and could again give them a base to operate as they did in the run-up to 9/11, the head of Britain’s MI5 domestic spy service said on Friday. Ken McCallum, director-general of the Security Service, best known by the initials for Military Intelligence Section 5, told the BBC the threat to Britain from terrorism was “a real and enduring thing”. While General Lord Richards, exclusively told LBC: “Once you’ve served in Afghanistan you feel very committed to it and to the people and to what we are trying to achieve.
“It is ironic that President Biden evacuated American and other forces with the purpose of timing it with the 20th anniversary and yet as a result of that decision we are pitched back into an era that could be even worse than the 90s and 2000s that led to 9/11.”
Asked by host Nick Ferrari whether there be another attack, Lord Richards said: “We are no close to another 9/11.
“We’ve now been pitched back into a dark period which we somehow have to manage.
“I fear the Taliban and some extremist jihadist groups are, whatever they like to say, in each other’s pockets, scores will be settled, debts will have to be repaid and there will be ungoverned space opened up in Afghanistan which those groups will exploit and the ability of the Taliban to actually manage them will be minimal.”
His comments come as there is “no doubt” that events in Afghanistan will have “heartened and emboldened” extremists, the boss of MI5 said as he warned of the potential return of “al Qaeda-style” terrorist plots.
Director-general Ken McCallum said that, although the Government has pledged to judge the Taliban by their actions, the UK security service and its partners will plan for the chance that “more risk, progressively, may flow our way”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There is no doubt that events in Afghanistan will have heartened and emboldened some of those extremists and so being vigilant to precisely those kinds of risks (is what) my organisation is focused on along with a range of other threats.”
While “inspired” acts of terrorism are “by volume” the largest number of threats that MI5 and their partners face in the UK, Mr McCallum also warned of the “potential regrowth of al Qaeda-style directed plots”.
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He said that although more directed plots from terrorist organisations take time to organise and carry out, psychological boosts for their causes can happen “overnight”.
“Terrorist threats tend not to change overnight in the sense of directed plotting or training camps or infrastructure – the sorts of things that al Qaeda enjoyed in Afghanistan at the time of 9/11.
“These things do inherently take time to build, and the 20-year effort to reduce the terrorist threat from Afghanistan has been largely successful.
“But what does happen overnight, even though those directed plots and centrally organised bits of terrorism take a bit longer to rebuild… overnight, you can have a psychological boost, a morale boost to extremists already here, or in other countries.
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“So we need to be vigilant both for the increase in inspired terrorism which has become a real trend for us to deal with over the last five to 10 years, alongside the potential regrowth of al Qaeda-style directed plots,” Mr McCallum said.
His comments follow warnings he made during his annual address in July that terrorists will “seek to take advantage” of chances to “rebuild” as troops withdraw from Afghanistan, suggesting it could be “challenging” to disrupt potential threats without “having our own forces on the ground”.
Almost 20 years on from the 9/11 terror attacks in the US, Mr McCallum said it was “difficult to give a simplistic answer” as to whether the UK was safer, or less safe now from the threat of terrorism since 2001.
He said a consequence of the success of reducing large-scale terror events had been the growth of “inspired terrorism”. The so-called Islamic State had “managed to do something that al Qaeda did not” in inspiring lots of people to attempt smaller-scale acts of terrorism through online grooming.
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