British spy chief says Gaza war raises risk of terror in UK, fears Iran on the move

MI5’s Ken McCallum highlights risk terror groups may use new methods, says Tehran intensifying efforts to generate threats on British soil, in rare remarks to press

File: Ken McCallum, director general of MI5, Britain's domestic intelligence agency, March 31, 2020. (AFP)
File: Ken McCallum, director general of MI5, Britain's domestic intelligence agency, March 31, 2020. (AFP)

Britain’s domestic MI5 spy agency chief has warned that the current conflict between Israel and the Gazan terrorists increases the UK’s terror risk, singling out Iran as a cause for concern.

The comments by MI5 director general Ken McCallum, reported in UK media Wednesday, follow terror attacks by suspected Islamist extremists in France and Belgium since war broke out following Hamas’s devastating onslaught in Israel on October 7.

“There clearly is the possibility that profound events in the Middle East will either generate more volume of UK threat and/or change its shape in terms of what is being targeted, in terms of how people are taking inspiration,” McCallum said.

He was speaking to British media at a summit in the United States attended by its intelligence chiefs and counterparts from Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

“In the current climate, we and our partners are particularly attuned to the risk that terrorist organizations may choose to strike in a new way, or perhaps that individuals choose to respond often in spontaneous or unpredictable ways,” he added.

McCallum, an MI5 veteran appointed to the top job in March 2020, rarely speaks in public.

File: Police stand guard outside the Iranian Embassy after a small group of protesters threw paint at the building in London, September 25, 2022. (AP/Alastair Grant)

In remarks specifically about Iran, he noted London had “been concerned” about its behavior within Britain “for a long time,” with the current Middle East situation heightening those concerns.

“In particular, the last 18 months or so have been a particularly intensive phase of Iran-generated threat on UK soil,” he said.

The domestic spy chief added that Tehran had mainly targeted its “internal enemies, dissidents, Farsi media organizations” in the UK.

“Clearly one of the things on our minds is might the Iranian targeting intent shift in response to events elsewhere,” he told the Daily Telegraph.

“I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that could include the UK.”

Assessing beyond the Middle East, McCallum noted the world had entered a new, more dangerous era, in which “authoritarian states” were “behaving much more aggressively.”

“We are in a different world now than the world we’ve all lived in since the end of the Cold War,” he said.

McCallum has previously used speeches to warn against the increasing espionage threat posed by China.

Speaking to the BBC at this week’s security summit, he noted more than 20,000 people in Britain have now been approached covertly online by Chinese spies while warning Beijing is trying to steal cutting-edge research from Western nations.

“We have seen a sustained campaign on a pretty epic scale,” McCallum said.

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