A rising number of far-Right extremists radicalised online in their bedrooms are trying to acquire weapons to carry out lethal attacks, the head of MI5 said on Wednesday as he warned of a continuing serious terror threat to this country.
Ken McCallum said that although Islamist terrorism “remains the larger problem” his spy agency was concerned about the growth in far-Right attempts to buy “firearms in particular, whether illegally obtained, homemade or 3D-printed”.
He said the problem was being compounded by a switch away from “structured, real-world groups such as National Action, to a diffuse online threat” and the activities of “Right-wing extremist influencers” operating globally to spread conspiracy theories and inflame grievances.
He added: “From the comfort of their bedrooms, individuals are easily able to access Right-wing extremist spaces, network with each other and move towards a radical mindset. Often weapons are sought for their own sake, well in advance of any specific targeting intent developing — making for difficult risk management judgements and forcing early intervention.”
Mr McCallum’s warning came as he delivered his annual threat assessment during a speech in London, in which he also disclosed that “eight late-stage” terror plots, including by both Islamist and extreme Right suspects, have been foiled since last summer, taking the total stopped since the start of 2017 to 37.
He said that state threats, most notably from Russia, China, and Iran — which he said had had “ambitions to kidnap or even kill British or UK-based individuals” on 10 occasions this year — were also adding to the challenges facing MI5.
On Russia, Mr McCallum said that since the “sickening” war in Ukraine began Britain had also helped in the expulsion of more than 600 Russian officials, including more than 400 spies, in the “most significant strategic blow against Russian intelligence in recent European history”. He said the risk remained, however, of “assassination attempts, cyber attacks, espionage, democratic interference and the use of Putin-aligned oligarchs and others as tools for influence”’ and that “the UK must be ready for Russian aggression for years to come”, including “covert aggression for MI5 to detect and tackle.” But Mr McCallum emphasised domestic terrorism remained the biggest challenge. He made clear the risk remained of further atrocities in the wake of the Islamist murder of Conservative MP Sir David Amess last year, the attempted bombing of the Liverpool Women’s Hospital and the recent firebomb attack on a migrant site in Dover.
“Islamist terrorism remains the larger problem — about three quarters of our terrorist caseload. Much of the volume is self-radicalised terrorists seeking to conduct low sophistication attacks. Low sophistication does not mean low impact: think of the appalling murder of Sir David,” he said. Mr McCallum warned plots against the UK from overseas terrorist groups such as Islamic State also continued to pose a danger.