Britain on Friday raised the country’s terror threat level from “substantial” to “severe” in response to the dangers emanating from conflicts in Iraq and Syria, meaning that a terrorist attack is considered “highly-likely”.
The decision to raise the level to the second-highest scale since 2011 was taken in light of the increasing threats posed by British extremists, as Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed at least 500 people had travelled from the UK “to fight in Syria and potentially Iraq”.
He said Islamic State (IS) extremists – who are attempting to establish a “caliphate” in the region – represented a “greater and deeper threat to our security than we have known before”.
During a press conference at Downing Street, Cameron also announced new legislation to make it easier to take passports away from people travelling abroad to join the conflict.
Efforts are currently under way to identify a suspected British jihadist who appeared in IS video of the killing of US journalist James Foley.
The decision to raise the threat level, which is now only one stage below “critical” – which means an attack is imminent – was taken by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC).
UK home secretary Theresa May said: “JTAC’s judgements about that threat level are made on the basis of the very latest intelligence and are independent of Ministers.
“The increase in the threat level is related to developments in Syria and Iraq where terrorist groups are planning attacks against the West.”
She said some of those plots are likely to involve foreign fighters who have travelled there from the UK and Europe.
“We face a real and serious threat in the UK from international terrorism. I would urge the public to remain vigilant and to report any suspicious activity to the police,” May said.
Scotland Yard’s Assistant Commissioner National Policing Lead for Counter-Terrorism Mark Rowley, added: “The threat level from international terrorism has changed from substantial to severe in response to the developments in Syria and Iraq.
“This means it is highly likely that a terrorist attack could happen in the UK. We therefore continue to urge the public to remain vigilant and to report any suspicious activity to police.
“We need communities and families to bring to our attention anyone they perceive may be vulnerable, a danger or escalating towards terrorism.”