UK terrorist police investigations ‘quadruple’ with Iran behind 15 plots
The number of investigations by UK counter-terrorism police into state threats has quadrupled in the past two years, with several “close calls”, a senior officer has said.
Matt Jukes, head of counter-terrorism policing, described the workload as “unprecedented” and said it marked a “really significant shift” in focus for teams working on terrorism investigations.
“Missions outside of terrorism” now account for about 20 per cent of cases after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, to tackle state threats and espionage, and investigate war crimes, Mr Jukes said.
MI5 Director General Ken McCallum warned during a speech in November that Iran “projects a threat to the UK directly through its aggressive intelligence services”.
The security agency chief said that there had been at least 10 potential plots since January last year by Iranian intelligence services to kidnap or kill British or “UK-based” people considered “enemies of the regime”.
That number now stands at 15, Mr Jukes said.
“We have had to respond to very real concerns about the potential threats projected from Iran against people based in the UK,” he said.
Mr McCallum emphasised the danger from Iran, which he described as “the state actor which most frequently crosses into terrorism”, and remains a “profoundly destabilising actor in its region and beyond”.
British spy agencies work “at pace with domestic and international partners to disrupt this completely unacceptable activity”, he said.
“The Foreign Secretary made clear to the Iranian regime that the UK will not tolerate intimidation or threats to life towards journalists, or any individual, living in the UK.”
Mr Jukes on Thursday revealed that terrorism plots foiled at the last minute in Britain in 2022 were “close calls”.
He called them “goal-line saves” because would-be attackers had picked targets and were gathering weapons when officers intervened.
While fighting terrorism is still the “majority” focus, tackling hostile state activity was a “growing part” of work for counter-terrorism police, because the range of threats faced since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Mr Jukes said.
“We are shifting, in part, our focus from an exclusive attention to the terrorist threat to a really significant shift in focus on the threat from foreign states,” he said.
The number of investigations for state threats has “quadrupled in recent years”, Mr Jukes said, adding that this referred to “dozens” of cases over the past two years, not “hundreds”.
But he said “scores” of officers could be working on hostile state threats because of the “intensity” of the investigations, adding that the nature of the cases was “palpably different” from terrorism inquiries.
Officers are also looking into reports of the alleged presence of “so-called Chinese overseas police stations”.
“I want to be absolutely clear that any attempt to intimidate, to harass or to harm individuals who are UK nationals, or who have made the UK their home, won’t be tolerated,” Mr Jukes said.
“At present we’ve got no criminal evidence identified in the UK yet.
“Attempts to set up shop to act outside the conventions of international law enforcement are not acceptable, and they will be stopped. We’ve got the resources to do that.”
Meanwhile, police are continuing to gather evidence of potential war crimes to pass to the International Criminal Court.
So far 100 reports are being considered by officers from people across the UK about the war in Ukraine, Mr Jukes said.