Introduction to International Terrorism
The international terrorist threat to the UK
International terrorism refers to terrorism that goes beyond national boundaries in terms of the methods used, the people that are targeted or the places from which the terrorists operate.
Terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq, including Al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), possess both the intention and the capability to direct attacks against the West. The UK is a high-priority target for Islamist extremists and they pose a significant threat to our country and to our interests and citizens abroad. Despite the current main focus on terrorism originating from Syria and Iraq, the threat of terrorism also emanates from other parts of the Middle East and regions such as North, East and West Africa, South and South East Asia.
The majority of terrorist attack plots in this country have been planned by British residents. There are several thousand individuals in the UK who support violent extremism or are engaged in Islamist extremist activity. Some British nationals travel overseas to train with extremist groups and return to the UK with the view to plan attacks, but increasingly the terrorist threat from within the UK emanates from individuals radicalised by individuals and material online. Once radicalised, an individual might decide to conduct an attack in the name of Islam without any prior signs of radicalisation. Simple, self-organised attacks by UK-based Islamist extremists have increased and are inherently harder to detect than more complex and ambitious plots.
Support for Islamist extremism
Not all extremist activity is direct attack planning. UK-based Islamist extremists are supporting terrorism by:
- Radicalising individuals to believe in the legitimacy of joining a terrorist network or carrying out a terrorist attack;
- Fundraising for terrorist networks, often through criminal activity such as diverting money donated to legitimate charities;
- Helping radicalised individuals to travel abroad to join a terrorist group and potentially receive training. Some of these individuals may receive direction to plan an attack back in the UK.
The threat is constantly developing, presenting major challenges for the UK's intelligence agencies and the police.
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MI5 Director General Ken McCallum gave his annual threat update at Thames House on 14 July 2021.