Talking to the BBC’s Today programme on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Ken McCallum, director-general of the MI5 intelligence agency, also said that the threat of terrorism in the UK remains “real and enduring.”
“There is no doubt that events in Afghanistan will have heartened and emboldened some of those extremists,” he said.
The UK government has pledged to judge the Taliban “by their actions,” but McCallum said UK security services would plan for the chance that “more risk progressively may flow our way.”
While large-scale, “more directed plots” from terrorist organisations take time to organise and carry out, the MI5 chief said “psychological boosts” for would-be terrorists could happen “overnight.”
“We do face a consistent global struggle to defeat extremism and to guard against terrorism—this is a real problem,” he said.
He revealed that Britain’s security services disrupted 31 late-stage terrorist plots in the last four years, “mainly Islamist attack plots but also a growing number of attack plots from right-wing terrorists.”
The threats have not been diminished by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic, he said. “Even during the pandemic period which we have all been enduring for the past two years, we have had to disrupt six late-stage attack plots.”
McCallum said the 20-year effort to reduce the terrorist threat from Afghanistan has been “largely successful” in destroying terrorist infrastructure and their ability to organise major terror attacks.
“What has happened across those two decades is that on the day of 9/11 we faced a large, well-funded organisation in al-Qaida with a safe haven and we had to play catch-up in a dramatic way.”
But he said that a consequence of the success of reducing large-scale terror events had been the growth of “inspired terrorism.”
He said the ISIS terrorist group had “managed to do something that al-Qaida did not” in inspiring lots of people to attempt smaller-scale acts of terrorism through online grooming.
“The number of plots that we disrupt nowadays are actually higher than the number of plots that were coming at us after 9/11, but on average they are smaller plots of lower sophistication,” he said.
“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.”
PA contributed to this report.