MI5 monitoring 1,600 radicals

The head of MI5 has said the security service is monitoring 1,600 terror suspects across 200 networks in the UK.

In a rare speech, Eliza Manninham-Buller – MI5 director general, said the UK was currently facing around 30 terror plots that security professionals were aware of. Additionally, since the July 7th bombings last year MI5 had foiled five more major conspiracies.

“These plots often have links back to al-Qaida in Pakistan and through those links al-Qaida gives guidance and training to its largely British foot soldiers here on an extensive and growing scale,” she told academics last night.

Dame Eliza’s speech offered both support for and ammunition against critics of the government’s foreign policy and the so-called war on terror.

Backing up the government’s position that security threat pre-dates UK troops invading Afghanistan and Iraq, the intelligence chief pointed out: “The first al-Qaida-related plot against the UK was the one we discovered and disrupted in November 2000 in Birmingham…the international terrorist threat to this country is not new.

“It began before Iraq, before Afghanistan, and before 9/11.”

However, while pre-dating recent British military action in the Middle East, she also said British foreign policy was being used as propaganda to recruit terrorists.

“Al-Qaida has developed an ideology which claims that Islam is under attack, and needs to be defended,” she explained.

“The video wills of British suicide bombers make it clear that they are motivated by perceived worldwide and long-standing injustices against Muslims; an extreme and minority interpretation of Islam promoted by some preachers and people of influence; and their interpretation as anti-Muslim of UK foreign policy, in particular the UK’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Tony Blair responded to her comments, saying this “propaganda” needs to be tackled and the fight must be taken to those spreading it.

“We take on and combat the poisonous propaganda of those people that warp and pervert the minds, particularly of younger people,” the prime minister said in a press briefing this morning.

“Because in the end the values that we have and hold dear in this country that are about democracy, and tolerance, and liberty and respect for people of other faiths are the values that will defeat those values of hatred and division and sectarianism.

“So it is a very long and deep struggle this here and right round the world, but we have got to stand up and be counted for what we believe and to take the fight to those that want to entice young people into what is in the end not just something that is wicked and violent, but something that is utterly futile in terms of the future.”

Opposition parties said new steps to counter terrorism were needed to effectively counter the threat now faced by the UK.

Shadow home secretary, David Davis, said: “The government should be taking practical and effective measures to help us in the fight against terrorism, such as a single, dedicated border police, appointing a single minister to co-ordinate our security efforts, and allowing the use of intercept (phone tap) evidence in terror trials.

“It also reinforces the need for the government to be firm on Muslim radicals and Imams who preach hatred to the West. Action by the Government on this is long overdue.”

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg added: “Dame Eliza’s call for more to be done to tackle the causes of radicalisation should be a wake up call for all political parties.

“The effect of our foreign and domestic policies on opinion in our Muslim communities, especially young men, now requires constant vigilance.

“New security measures alone will not win the battle of hearts and minds if they unwittingly push more and more people into an extremist direction.”