Jihadi suspects will be stripped of their passports, says PM
unveiling new measures designed to fill “gaps in our armoury”.
Intelligence and security service chiefs estimate that at least 500 British citizens have gone to fight in Syria and possibly Iraq.
The Prime Minister told a press conference in Downing Street: “What we are facing in Iraq now with the Islamic State is a greater threat to our security than we have ever seen.”
The barbaric beheading of American journalist James Foley by Islamists – including a fanatic thought to be British – was “clear evidence” that the threat could not be ignored.
Mr Cameron said: “In Afghanistan the Taliban were prepared to play host to Al Qaeda, the terrorist organisation.
“With the IS we are facing a terrorist organisation not being hosted in a country but seeking to establish and then violently expand its own terrorist state.
“With designs on expanding to Jordan, Lebanon, right up to the Turkish border, we could be facing a terrorist state on the shores of the Mediterranean and bordering a Nato member.”
The Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, a group of experts at MI5, raised the terror threat level following fears that British jihadists are returning from Syria and Iraq to carry out atrocities here at home.
Home Secretary Theresa May said the move meant a terrorist attack in the UK was “highly likely” but insisted she had not received intelligence about any specific incident.
She said: “The threat level increase is related to developments in Syria and Iraq where terrorist groups are planning attacks against the West.”
Westminster insiders were yesterday speculating that the Government’s terrorism investigation and prevention measures could be strengthened to put tougher restrictions on terrorist suspects.
Some MPs are pressing for the socalled “control orders” introduced by the previous Labour government but replaced by the Coalition to be revived.
David Anderson QC, the Government’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said the terrorist threat to the UK had been gradually building over the summer.
He said: “I was certainly aware it has been inching up in recent months.
“I wasn’t surprised by the decision to raise the threat.”
Mr Anderson pointed out that 1,800 people are thought to have been killed by terrorists in the Middle East in the past year.
He said: “What is happening in the Middle East is very worrying.”
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said Labour would support legislation to crack down on suspected terrorists and urged ministers to consider reviving full control orders. At a Downing Street press conference, Mr Cameron added: “My first priority as Prime Minister is to make sure we do everything possible to keep our people safe.
“The ambition to create an extremist caliphate in the heart of Iraq and Syria is a threat to our own security here in the UK.
“The terrorist threat was not created by the Iraq war 10 years ago. It existed even before the horrific attacks on 9/11, themselves some time before the war.
“This threat cannot be solved simply by dealing with perceived grievances over Western foreign policy. Nor can it be dealt with by addressing poverty, dictatorship or instability in the region – as important as these things are.
“The root cause of this threat to our security is quite clear. It is a poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism that is condemned by all faiths and faith leaders.”
Mr Cameron will press other European Union leaders for tougher action to track suspected jihadists during talks at a summit in Brussels today.
Mr Cameron said the Government was taking a “tough, intelligent, patient and comprehensive approach” to the issues.
He stressed that there had already been significant steps, including making it easier to seize passports of suspected British jihadists, and emergency legislation to make communications data available to police and security services was “already delivering results”.
But he warned that combating the extremist ideology would take “years and probably decades”.
The Prime Minister also insisted that military action should not be ruled out completely, saying that “learning the lessons of the past does not mean there is not a place for our military”.
Britain’s official terrorist threat was last raised to “severe” in 2010 but reduced the following year.
It was also at that level between 2006 and 2009.
Mr Cameron: ‘Tough approach’