MI5 chief highlights threats from N. Ireland, Somalia, Yemen

17th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Extremists opposed to Northern Ireland's peace process could launch fresh attacks in Britain, the head of security service MI5 has said, adding that Al-Qaeda still poses a "real threat."

Jonathan Evans also warned of a growing menace from Somalia and Yemen and said extremists could try to target the 2012 London Olympics, in a speech delivered late Thursday.

In rare public comments, Evans said there had been a "persistent rise in terrorist activity and ambition" by dissident republicans in Northern Ireland over the past three years.

"While at present the dissidents' campaign is focused on Northern Ireland, we cannot exclude the possibility that they might seek to extend their attacks to Great Britain as violent republican groups have traditionally done," he said.

There have been over 30 attacks or attempted attacks by dissident republicans so far this year compared to 20 for the whole of last year, he added.

Northern Ireland has been administered by a devolved power-sharing government uniting republicans and unionists since 2007.

Despite the threat from Northern Ireland, MI5's main focus remains on extremist threats from abroad, Evans said, particularly those linked to Al-Qaeda.

MI5 receives several hundred new leads a month, he added, warning that not all could be thoroughly scrutinised. It was "nonsensical" to believe that all extremist attacks could be prevented, he said.

"The fact that there are real plots uncovered on a fairly regular basis demonstrates that there is a persistent intent on the part of Al-Qaeda and its associates to attack the UK," Evans told an audience in London.

"The country continues to face a real threat from Al-Qaeda-related terrorism."

While a couple of years ago around three-quarters of plots aimed at Britain were linked to Al-Qaeda in Pakistan, the figure has fallen to 50 percent now due in part to increased activity in Somalia and Yemen.

Evans added that while there would be a "major security operation" around the Olympics, security services should assume that some extremists will "see an opportunity to gain notoriety and inflict damage."

© 2010 AFP

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