Sir John Sawers, the former head of MI6 warns that there are several thousand individuals of concern in Britain as he demands tougher anti-terror powers to prevent a ‘ghastly 7/7-style attack’.
He also spoke out against the criticism of British security services over their handling of Mohammed Emwazi recently revealed to be Jihadi John, who was known to have been on their radar for at least six years.
The Mail Online report: He will tell Radio 4’s Today: ‘The threat that we face from terrorists here has gone up over the last three years and there has to be some response to that.
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‘What we don’t want to do is wait for some ghastly 7/7-style terrorist attack here in the UK before political opinion changes.”
‘The whole point is to move incrementally to ensure that the powers and resources available to the security services, intelligence services, are ahead of that threat.’
Sir John, who stepped down from MI6 last November, added: ‘I think in general when you look at the challenge that the security services are facing with the number of extremists here in the UK, elsewhere in Europe, they do a really professional job and, of course, they know many of these individuals, most of them who end up taking part in terrorist organisations.
‘They’d be more subject to criticism if someone came and committed an atrocity in this country or elsewhere who they had no knowledge of whatsoever.
‘They’re doing their professional job by being aware of these people. But there are probably several thousand of these individuals of concern and the numbers are rising as more people go to Syria and Iraq and are radicalised out there.
‘And no one is talking about rounding up all these people or keeping 100 per cent coverage, there’s just not the resources to do that and it would be contrary to our principles of human rights to do that…so you do have to find a balance in there.’
Sir John also dismissed claims the treatment of Emwazi by MI5 that may have helped radicalise him as ‘very specious arguments’.
However, the counter-terrorism laws watchdog David Anderson QC said the intelligence agencies may have made a ‘slip-up’ in failing to impose tighter controls on Emwazi due to the sheer number of suspects they have to cope with.
Mr Anderson said he was not surprised that Emwazi was not subject to measures such as house arrest, despite being on MI5’s radar, because the UK’s spies and counter-terrorism police were very busy. His warning came as Boris Johnson attacked ministers yesterday for scrapping control orders on terror suspects that could have prevented the murderer from slipping out of Britain to join Islamic State.