UK’s MI5 spy chief: Overall threat from Iran, Russia and China is growing in severity

Members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. (AFP)
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Updated 14 October 2020

UK’s MI5 spy chief: Overall threat from Iran, Russia and China is growing in severity

LONDON: The overall threat from Russia, China and Iran is growing in severity and complexity, the UK’s MI5 spy chief Ken McCallum said on Wednesday. 

McCallum, in his first major remarks since being named as the new boss of MI5 in March when Britain was under national lockdown, said terrorist threats also persist.

"One of the toughest challenges facing MI5 and indeed government is that the differing national security challenges presented by Russian, Chinese, Iranian and other actors are growing in severity and in complexity – while terrorist threats persist at scale,” he said.  

The head of MI5 added that British spies are trying to defend COVID-19 vaccine work against hostile powers that seek to steal or sabotage research data in the race to find a jab providing immunity.


UK sees rise in Islamist extremist cases referred to counter radicalization program

Updated 7 min 12 sec ago

UK sees rise in Islamist extremist cases referred to counter radicalization program

  • Cases involving Islamist extremism increase for first time in four years
  • Program aims to spot people who could go on to commit terrorist acts

LONDON: The number of people referred to the UK government’s counter extremism program has jumped amid concerns over increased radicalization among young people.
Cases involving Islamist extremism increased by 6 percent from 1,404 to 1,487. The numbers, which represent individuals of concern referred to the Prevent scheme between April 2019 and March 2020, mark the first year-on-year increase for Islamist cases since 2016.
While far-right cases remained steady compared to the previous year at 1,388, overall the number of people referred to the program rose 10 percent.
The rise in Islamist cases comes after a recent surge of attacks across Europe. Last month a school teacher was beheaded by an extremist after he had shown his class cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in a freedom of speech discussion. Days later, three people were killed in a terrorist attack at a church in Nice.
In the UK, three people were killed in a knife attack on London Bridge almost a year ago.
The UK’s Prevent program is part of its wider counter-terrorism strategy and aims to safeguard people from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism.
The most serious cases are referred to a panel known as “Channel,” which then decides what further action to take. Of the 697 cases that reached the panel, most were related to the far-right (302), while 210 were linked to Islamist extremism. 
More than half of all referrals were aged under 20.
Security Minister James Brokenshire said the Prevent strategy was an essential strand to the UK’s counter-terror strategy.
“It is about supporting vulnerable individuals, steering them away from terrorism, and protecting our communities,” he told the Royal United Services Institute on Thursday.
Last week the head of counter-terror policing in the UK, Neil Basu, said that while Islamist terrorists remained the greatest threat to Britain, the far right is growing faster.
He said COVID-19 had created a “perfect storm” with young and vulnerable people spending more time alone and online.