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Friday, November 10, 2006

Britain facing 30 terrorism plots, says spy chief

LONDON, Nov 10 (Reuters) - Muslim extremists are plotting at least 30 major terrorist attacks in Britain and the threats could involve chemical and nuclear devices, a British spy chief said.

Eliza Manningham-Buller, head of domestic spy agency MI5, said young British Muslims were being groomed to become suicide bombers and her agents were tracking some 1,600 suspects, most of whom were British-born and linked to al Qaeda in Pakistan.

"We are aware of numerous plots to kill people and damage our economy. What do I mean by numerous? Five? Ten? No, nearer 30 ... that we know of," Manningham-Buller said in a speech to a specially invited audience in London on Thursday evening.

Her remarks were posted on the MI5 Web site on Friday.

"These plots often have links back to al Qaeda in Pakistan and through those links al Qaeda gives guidance and training to its largely British foot soldiers here," she added.

The warnings were not intended to alarm but to paint a frank picture of the al Qaeda threat, she said, adding that it was sustained and growing.

"And it is not just the UK, of course," she warned. "Other countries also face a new terrorist threat: from Spain to France to Canada and Germany."

Britain suffered its worst peacetime attack in July last year when four British Islamists blew themselves up on London's transport network, killing 52 commuters and wounding hundreds.

"This is a threat that has grown up over a generation. I think (Manningham-Butler)'s absolutely right in saying it will last a generation," Prime Minister Tony Blair told reporters.

Blair said it could only be combated by tough terrorism laws and fighting "poisonous propaganda" influencing young people.

The government has said law and order will be a major part of the next parliamentary session and tougher security measures are expected to be outlined in a speech next Wednesday.


Anti-terrorist police have warned the terrorist threat has increased since last year's attacks and say they have thwarted at least five major plots since then.

In August, police said they foiled a plot to blow up transatlantic airliners using liquid explosives.

Earlier this week, British Muslim convert Dhiren Barot was jailed for 40 years for planning to blow up the New York Stock Exchange and carry out attacks in Britain using a "dirty bomb" and gas-filled limousines.

Manningham-Buller, who rarely speaks in public, provided the most detailed account of how serious the threat was.

"My officers and the police are working to contend with some 200 groupings or networks, totalling over 1,600 identified individuals who are actively engaged in plotting or facilitating terrorist acts here and overseas," she said.

Manningham-Buller said the number of cases being pursued by security services had risen by 80 percent since January.

"Today we see the use of home-made improvised explosive devices. Tomorrow's threat may, and I suggest will, include the use of chemicals, bacteriological agents, radioactive materials and even nuclear technology," she said.

While Blair has rejected the argument that British foreign policy is to blame for the terrorist threat, Manningham-Buller said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan seemed to play a part.

"The extremists are motivated by a sense of grievance and injustice driven by their interpretation of the history between the West and the Muslim world," she said.

Youths were being actively targeted and radicalised, she said. "Chillingly, we see the results here. Young teenagers groomed to be suicide bombers." (Additional reporting by Sophie Walker)
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