Islamic State poses a challenge to all countries in the world, while rival terrorist group al Qaeda is resurgent and could be plotting attacks in Europe, the UK’s security minister said.
Ben Wallace said the IS threat in the UK is “dangerous” and becoming more unpredictable following the collapse of the group’s self-proclaimed caliphate in Iraq and Syria this year.
He also said 250 Britons, including fighters aligned to IS, remain in the two countries. A number of these individuals have been detained in camps but others are still at large.
The group’s ability to use the internet to attract recruits and inspire attacks enables its global reach, the minister told Sky News in an interview at the Home Office.
“That means that everyone has potentially an ISIS problem in every country around the world and that that needs to be addressed collectively as a group of international nations but also in investing in countering harms online,” he said.
Asked about the IS threat to Britain and whether it was changing following the group’s defeat in Iraq and Syria, Mr Wallace said: “It is a different type of threat because at the moment it’s manifesting itself in lone actors and people self-inspired from here who’ve never been to Syria
“And that puts a huge resource pressure on MI5 and the police because they have to watch one person who may be just literally talking to themselves on one day and the next day they’ll go and grab a knife or a truck.
“And that’s a really hard place for us to all anticipate and hugely big pressure on resources. So the threat is dangerous. It’s very real. It’s more unpredictable which therefore magnifies the potential threat.”
Large numbers of foreign and local IS fighters in Iraq and Syria escaped capture when a US-led coalition helped local forces in both countries to regain control of swathes of territory that had fallen under the black flag of Islamic State over the past five years.
The biggest contingent of militants remains in that region but others have moved to Afghanistan, Asia and Africa as well as melting back into societies in Europe.
The IS brand has been adopted by other terrorist organisations across the world, though the affiliation can be loose and inconsistent, Mr Wallace said.
Some 900 Britons travelled to Syria and Iraq since the rise of Islamic State in 2014. The majority returned to the UK, many were killed, others are still on the ground.
“We think there’s about 250 still in that theatre of operations,” the security minister said.
“Many of them will not be necessarily active. They’ll be seeking to be active again and they won’t all be ISIL some will be al Qaeda and aligned to other Islamist groups.”
Islamic State is by no means the only Islamist extremist threat in the world.
Mr Wallace said al Qaeda, the network once led by Osama bin Laden before he was killed in a US raid, is showing signs of renewed activity.
“Al Qaeda hasn’t gone away either. In fact they are biding their time and they are more active than they’ve been,” he said.
The group has in recent years been eclipsed by the atrocities and high-profile attacks carried out by IS, which has a much more effective reach over social media and other internet platforms.
“Across the world AQ (al Qaeda) is becoming more busy. I think that’s all I can really say about it. They are still determined. They’re still recruiting they’re still active they’re still targeting. And you know we should we shouldn’t be surprised if you see more al Qaeda plots emerging across Europe and the west.”
The shifting terrorist challenge means the threat of a terrorist attack in the UK remains high.
He said: “The threat has shifted… We are still in the realm where we have a significant number of live operations. We have thousands of people we’re worried about.
“And that hasn’t gone away at all.”