Thursday, December 7

Terror chief Max Hill warns risk of attacks in Britain



British citizens are facing a level of threat from terrorists not seen since the IRA bombings of the Seventies, the country’s new terrorism watchdog has warned.

In his first major interview since taking the role, Max Hill said Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) was planning indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians on a scale similar to those perpetrated by the IRA 40 years ago.

He told The Sunday Telegraph that Islamists were targeting UK cities and said there was an enormous ongoing risk which none of us can ignore.

The warning comes just days after Mr Hill, one of Britain’s leading terrorism prosecutors, was unveiled as the new independent reviewer of terrorism legislation.

It follows a 30-year legal career during which he helped convict the 21/7 bomb plotters, break up terror cells and imprison Damilola Taylor’s killers.

Revealing his views about the terrorism threat in Britain, Mr Hill also:

Expressed “enormous concern” at the imminent return of hundreds of British jihadists who have been fighting for Isil in Syria;

Warned that British teenagers as young as 14 are being radicalised by extremist videos and hate speech online;

Promised to stand up to Theresa May if he believes her administration’s policies will harm British society;

Defended ministers who approved a reported £1 million compensation payment to Ronald Fiddler, the Guantanamo Bay detainee who this month carried out a suicide bomb attack in Iraq;

Pledged to review Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures amid concerns they are an extraordinarily serious infringement on freedom.

Mr Hill was unveiled on Monday as the new watchdog, taking over from David Anderson in a role that dates to the height of the IRA threat.

He was praised by Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, for his “wealth of experience and legal expertise” when the appointment was announced.

In the role, Mr Hill will report annually to Parliament on the state of British terror legislation as well as undertaking his own reviews.

Speaking exclusively to this newspaper, Mr Hill made plain his fears that the scale of threat facing Britain today has not been seen since the Seventies.

It is possible to point to distinctions in terms of the mindset, organisation and strategy of different terrorist groups and therefore it would be wrong to draw a simple comparison between Irish republicanism and the ideology of so-called Islamic State, Mr Hill said.

But in terms of the threat that’s represented, I think the intensity and the potential frequency of serious plot planning with a view to indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians of whatever race or colour in metropolitan areas represents an enormous on-going risk that none of us can ignore.

So I think that there is undoubtedly significant ongoing risk which is at least as great as the threat to London in the Seventies when the IRA were active on the mainland.

At the time Britain was facing a concerted terrorist campaign from Irish republicans that saw pubs, train stations and Parliament repeatedly targeted in bomb attacks.

It was a battle that would only truly end with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, signed by Tony Blair, which secured peace in Northern Ireland.

Mr Hill said the success of the intelligence services after the 7/7 bombings in 2005 was largely to thank for such attacks not becoming more frequent.

He also raised concern about the hundreds of British extremists who fled to fight in Syria and Iraq with Isil but are set to return after a string of military defeats.

It’s an enormous concern that large numbers – we know this means at least hundreds of British citizens who have left this country in order to fight are now returning or may be about to return, Mr Hill said.

Of course the imminent fall of Mosul and perhaps the prospective retaking of Raqqa are both bound to lead to a higher instance of returning fighters. Does that mean that the British public need to be immediately alarmed at a spike in terrorist activity within this country?

The answer to that is, I don’t know, but it doesn’t follow as a matter of fact that those who chose to go to live or fight abroad will bring that fight back to this country.