Al Qaeda inspired terrorists in Iraq are ‘just a few hours flying time’ from striking Britain ‘and want to attack us’, Home Secretary Theresa May said tonight.
Mrs May said Islamist fighters had carved out a ‘safe haven’ in the Middle East – with ‘advanced technology and weapons’ capable of threatening the UK.
She said the terror threat was now ‘on the doorstep of Europe’ and was the most serious since 9/11.
Home Secretary Theresa May tonight launched an impassioned defence of the security services and warned the threat faced by Britain was serious
The dramatic warning is reminiscent of Tony Blair’s infamous claim that Saddam Hussein was just 45 minutes away from hitting Britain in the run up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
But the Home Secretary, speaking at the Lord Mayor’s annual security and defence Lecture at London’s Mansion House, said the terror threats against Britain are ‘considerable’.
She also reiterated her demand for fresh powers to monitor people’s internet like emails and skype calls to keep tabs on terrorists. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has blocked any further extension of the Government’s powers to monitor people’s communications.
But Mrs May said: ‘We need to make changes to the law to maintain the capabilities we need.’
‘This is quite simply a question of life and death, a matter of national security. We must keep on making the case until we get the changes we need.’
Mrs May revealed she was now signing off spying warrants every week for the police and security services to monitor British based terrorists planning to travel to fight in the Middle East.
But she said the security services were working with their hands tied behind their back because they did not have the power to monitor the internet properly.
She said the web was becoming ‘a safe haven for terrorism and criminality’. Mrs May said the ‘danger is already upon us’.
The Home Secetary said: ‘We no longer have capabilities upon which we have always relied.
‘Let me give one example. Over a six-month period the National Crime Agency alone estimates that it has had to drop at least twenty cases as a result of missing communications data.
‘Thirteen of these were threat-to-life cases in which a child was assessed to be at risk of imminent harm.’
She added: ‘The real problem is not that we have built an over-mighty state but that the state is finding it harder to fulfil its most basic duty, which is to protect the public.
ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria are no longer just a threat to towns and cities in the Middle East – they also plan to attack Britain, according to the Home Secretary
ISIS has carved out an safe haven to attack Britain from ‘just a few hours’ away, Theresa May warned tonight
Mrs May said the Government had been criticised for ‘overstating the threats we face’.
But she said: ‘We need to remember some facts. Between September 2001 and the end of 2013, more than 2,500 people were arrested for terrorist offences in this country.
‘Almost 400 people have been convicted for terrorism-related offences. We have disrupted more than one major attack in this country each year since 2005 and many more overseas.
Mrs May’s warning is reminiscent of the now-discredited claim that Saddam Hussein could hit Britain in 45 minutes
She added: ‘The terrorist threats to this country and our interests are changing faster than at any time since 9/11.
‘We continue to face possible attacks by al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
‘But we face further threats from Syria and now from Iraq where al Qaeda, ISIL and others have created a safe haven with substantial resources including advanced technology and weapons.
‘They are on the doorstep of Europe, just a few hours flying time from London, and they want to attack us – not just in Syria or Iraq but here in Britain.
Mrs May revealed that ‘many hundreds of people from our country have travelled to Syria to fight against the Assad regime’.
She said: ‘They have ended up fighting for terrorist groups, often against other parts of the opposition rather than against the Syrian government.
‘Some of them will present a real danger to us when they return to Britain. The investigation of these people will require all of our sensitive capabilities and the skills and resources of the agencies and police.
‘It will involve the further use of the powers I have through the Royal Prerogative to remove people’s passports to stop them travelling – and in a smaller number of cases, I am prepared to use my powers to deprive people with dual citizenship of their British nationality.’