UK and US agencies warn about domestic terror threats amid Middle East crisis
According to the counter-terror chiefs, Jewish communities, along with other groups, might face elevated risks from lone actors, Hamas militants, and Iran on British or US soil
Supporters of Palestine demonstrate outside of BBC Scotland to condemn the recent fighting in Gaza on October 14, 2023, in Glasgow, United Kingdom – Representative Image (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
The heads of domestic intelligence and security service, MI5, and the FBI have jointly warned of an increased threat of domestic terrorist attacks due to the crisis in the Middle East.
According to the counter-terror chiefs, Jewish communities, along with other groups, might face elevated risks from lone actors, Hamas militants, and Iran on British or US soil, The Guardian reported.
Ken McCallum, the director general of MI5, emphasised the potential danger posed by “self-initiated” individuals who could have been radicalised online and might respond in spontaneous or unpredictable ways in the UK following the terrorist attacks on Israel and the ongoing conflict.
Speaking at a public summit of intelligence chiefs in California, McCallum, alongside FBI director Christopher Wray, expressed concerns about the potential escalation of violence due to terror groups or Iran.
McCallum highlighted the possibility of Jewish individuals or organisations being targeted by neo-Nazis and Islamists amid the unfolding events in the Middle East.
He said that significant events in the Middle East could increase the UK threat level or alter the nature of the targets and sources of inspiration.
The statement came after a tragic incident in Brussels on Monday night (16), when a gunman shot dead two Swedish football fans. Initially, the Belgian prosecutor’s office stated no connection to the Israel-Gaza conflict, but later, a spokesperson indicated that a potential link was under investigation.
France elevated its security alert to the highest level on Friday following an incident where a suspected radical Islamist killed a teacher and injured three others in the northern part of the country.
These events occurred during a period of heightened counter-terror concerns, exacerbated by the significant violence resulting from Hamas’s recent attack on Israel, ten days ago.
Wray said that terrorist threats in the US were rapidly evolving. Therefore, he warned that there is a possibility that Hamas or other foreign terrorist organisations might exploit the conflict, thereby urging vigilance.
Wray also noted an increase in reported threats against Jewish Americans and Muslim Americans, as well as their institutions and places of worship, reiterating a warning he issued to police chiefs in San Diego on Saturday.
Though McCallum did not provide specific details about reported threats in the UK, he emphasised MI5’s vigilance, especially concerning lone actors.
He noted a potential risk for Jewish or Israeli individuals or entities from individuals with Islamist extremist ideologies and those holding extreme rightwing, antisemitic, or neo-Nazi beliefs.
McCallum and Wray addressed the potential threats faced in the UK and the US during the commencement of a meeting among spy chiefs from the Five Eyes intelligence agencies, hosted by the FBI in California.
Also present at the meeting were leaders of domestic agencies from Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, marking the first public appearance together for all five intelligence agencies.
The intelligence chiefs planned to discuss the implications of Hamas’s attack on Israel earlier this month, both in the region and in their respective homelands, as well as addressing the threat posed by Chinese economic espionage.
Both Wray and McCallum condemned Hamas’s attack on Israel. While Wray expressed his deep horror at the atrocities committed by Hamas in Israel, McCallum, described the attacks as monstrous. He said 1,400 people have been murdered, including at least six British citizens.
Additionally, McCallum mentioned that MI5 was actively involved in collaborative efforts with Israeli and other authorities to locate British hostages captured by Hamas fighters.
The FBI has already affirmed its commitment to locating and identifying missing Americans who may have been affected by the conflict.
The British spy chief also issued a specific warning regarding Iran, which had indicated its willingness to take “pre-emptive action” against Israel before an anticipated ground invasion of Gaza.
Additionally, McCallum pointed out that the unfolding events in the Middle East increased the likelihood of Iran adopting new strategies.
Therefore, he mentioned the potential possibility of these actions extending to the UK, although, the UK was already operating under a substantial threat level emanating from Iran, he said.
Last year, the head of MI5 had cautioned that Iran had issued 10 kidnap or death threats against individuals residing in the UK. This week, employees at the BBC’s Persian news service in London expressed their concerns about personal safety, fearing harassment by Iranian authorities when walking alone outdoors.