Tim Marshall, foreign affairs editor
Friday, September 17, 2010
The head of MI5 has warned it is "only a matter of time" before UK residents trained in Somalia stage an attack on British streets and the risk of terrorism was unlikely to diminish in the near future.
In a rare speech on Thursday night, Jonathan Evans also admitted underestimating the ability of offshoots from the IRA to regenerate and said cyber-security was now a priority for the Government.
His comments behind closed doors to the Worshipful Company of Security Professionals was delivered just a few weeks before the Government's spending review.
This may lead to accusations that the head of the domestic intelligence service was firing a warning shot across the Government's bow.
However, Whitehall insiders have said that although MI5 will face cuts - like every department - the security service will not be as badly affected as others.
Mr Evans confirmed that the threat from jihadists trained in northwest Pakistan remained the priority for his staff - but the percentage of plots and leads being followed had dropped from 75% to 50%.
However, he warned the threat of an attack remained high and pointed to the situation in Somalia as being of serious concern.
"There are a significant number of UK residents training in Al Shabaab camps to fight in the insurgency there," he said.
"I am concerned that it is only a matter of time before we see terrorism on our streets inspired by those who are today fighting alongside Al Shabaab."
Sky News understands that some of the British nationals who have gone to Somalia have been killed during fighting this year.
The spy chief also listed Yemen as another country on which his officers were concentrating.
On the increasing number of incidents in Northern Ireland, Mr Evans admitted: "Perhaps we were giving insufficient weight to the pattern of history over the last 100 years, which shows that whenever the main body of Irish republicanism has reached a political accommodation and rejoined constitutional politics, a hardliner rejectionist group would fragment off and continue with the so-called 'armed struggle'."
He also warned: "We cannot exclude the possibility that they might seek to extend their attacks to Great Britain as violent Republican groups have traditionally done."
After the 7/7 attacks, the security services were criticised for not picking up the threat.
During his speech, Mr Evans returned to the fray: "Each month at present we receive... several hundred pieces of information that might be described as new 'leads'.
"The most worrying leads are investigated most fully; those at the bottom of the priority list might receive only limited scrutiny.
"This is not ideal and involves difficult risk judgements, but it is the unavoidable practical fact of counter terrorist work within any realistic resource constraints.
"It used to be accepted as part of everyday life that sometimes the terrorists would get lucky and there would be an attack.
"In recent years we appear increasingly to have imported from the American media the assumption that terrorism is 100% preventable and any incident that is not prevented is seen as a culpable Government failure.
"This is a nonsensical way to consider terrorist risk and only plays into the hands of the terrorists themselves."
There was also a warning that the London Olympics would be a target for terrorism and cyber-terrorism was now a major threat to the security and therefore a national priority.