Britain’s police and security services have “disrupted no fewer than 7 terrorist plots to attack the UK” in the past 12 months, all of which “were either linked to” the Islamic State or “inspired” by the group’s propaganda, according to British Prime Minister David Cameron.
The terrorist threat has grown in recent months because the Islamic State “has a dedicated external operations structure in Syria, which is planning mass casualty attacks around the world.”
Cameron’s claims were included in 24 pages of written text recently submitted to the UK parliament as part of his effort to justify the extension of British military operations from Iraq into Syria. The submission includes a 10 page memorandum from Cameron, as well as 14 pages of answers to questions posed by the UK parliament’s foreign affairs select committee. The Islamic State is referred to as ISIL (an acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) throughout.
Although some analysts have assumed that the Islamic State is not really interested in, or capable of, planning large-scale operations in the West, the British government says it has been tracking the “caliphate’s” efforts in this regard for some time. The assault on multiple sites in Paris earlier this month was the organization’s first successful large-scale terrorist attack in Europe, but Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s jihadists had been targeting the West long beforehand.
“For several months now,” one of the answers provided to the foreign affairs select committee reads, “UK security agencies have been monitoring the development of ISIL’s external attack planning capacity, which seeks to target both the UK and our allies and partners around the world.”
Cameron has repeatedly argued that the Islamic State is planning strikes in the UK and elsewhere in the West.
In September, he identified Reyaad Khan and Junaid Hussain, both of whom were killed in airstrikes, as “British nationals based in Syria who were involved in actively recruiting [Islamic State] sympathizers and seeking to orchestrate specific and barbaric attacks against the West, including directing a number of planned terrorist attacks right here in Britain, such as plots to attack high profile public commemorations, including those taking place this summer.” Khan was killed in a Royal Air Force (RAF) drone strike on August 21, while Hussain perished in an American airstrike in Raqqa three days later, on August 24. [See LWJ report, Prime Minister says 2 British nationals killed in airstrikes were plotting attacks.]
In his recent testimony, Cameron cited a number of statistics to highlight the ongoing threat. He noted that the Islamic State “targets our young people, using sophisticated grooming techniques to lure them to Syria.”
Approximately “800 British individuals of national security concern have traveled to Syria since the conflict began” and “[m]any have joined ISIL and other terrorist groups.”
“Of those who are known to have traveled,” Cameron claimed, “about half have returned” and “many of those who remain in Syria, pose a threat to our security.”
According to Cameron, there “were 299 arrests in the UK in the year ending 31 March 2015 for terrorism-related offenses,” which is “an increase of 31% compared with the previous year and the highest number since data collection began in 2001.”
Britain has already increased its role in Iraq, where Cameron claims “Iraqi forces have halted ISIL’s advance and recovered 30% of the territory it had captured.” There is no doubt the Islamic State has suffered some key losses in Sinjar, Tikrit and Baiji. But it is not clear if these losses constitute 30 percent of its total territorial holdings, as Cameron claimed, because the jihadists still control Mosul and other significant areas.
Regardless, Cameron argued that any strategy to combat the Islamic State makes little sense if the “caliphate” is not confronted in its de facto capital of Raqqa.
“As pressure on ISIL in Iraq has grown, and as we have learned more about the threat that ISIL poses to Britain and our allies, we have increasingly been confronted by a significant handicap in our ability to respond to that threat: the fact that British Forces are currently restricted to taking direct military action against ISIL only in Iraq,” Cameron pointed out.
“This restriction has never made military sense.” Cameron elaborated: “ISIL does not recognize the border between Syria and Iraq,” as “it operates in a single ungoverned space that straddles both countries.” Moreover, the group’s “practical and ideological headquarters are in Raqqa…from where it conducts its attack planning, operations and recruitment.”
Cameron made a strong call to action, saying the West does “not have the luxury of being able to wait until the Syrian conflict is resolved before tackling ISIL.”
“Nor should we wait until an attack takes place here: we should act in advance, recognizing that there are inherent risks in any course,” Cameron wrote to parliament.
“There will be those who say that the UK might become more of a target by taking a greater role in the international effort to counter ISIL,” Cameron noted. “The reality is that the threat posed by ISIL to the UK is already very high. ISIL already views the UK, along with other Western countries, as a legitimate target for its attacks.”