Intelligence chiefs are warning Tony Blair that Britain faces a full-blown Islamist insurgency, sustained by thousands of young Muslim men with military training now resident in this country.
The grim possibility that the two London attacks were not simply a sporadic terror campaign is being discussed at the highest levels in Whitehall. Fears of a third strike remain high this weekend, based on concrete evidence supplied by an intercepted text message and the interrogation of a terror suspect being held outside Britain, say US reports.
As police and the security services work to prevent another cell murdering civilians, attention is focusing on the pool of migrants to this country from the Horn of Africa and central Asia. MI5 is working to an estimate that more than 10,000 young men from these regions have had at least basic training in light weapons and military explosives.
A well-connected source said there were more than 100,000 people in Britain from “completely militarised” regions, including Somalia and its neighbours in the Horn of Africa, and Afghanistan and territories bordering the country. “Every one of them knows how to use an AK-47,” said the source. “About 10 per cent can strip and reassemble such a weapon blindfolded, and probably a similar proportion have some knowledge of how to use military explosives. That adds up to tens of thousands of men.”
Even though the vast majority had come to Britain to escape the lawlessness of their homelands, the source added, there remained an alarmingly large pool of trained men who could be lured into violent action here.
This threat had been largely neglected while attention focused on British-born militants who had been through training camps run by al-Qa’ida in Afghanistan.
“There has been a debate on whether we are facing an insurgency or terrorism,” said the source, “and the verdict is on the side of an insurgency.”
Against this background, as many as 400 more armed police may be recruited in London. Concern has been expressed in the wake of the massive anti-terror operations that the police are being overstretched. Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, warned that his armed officers were suffering from fatigue after weeks of round-the-clock duty.
Three men from Brighton were yesterday remanded in custody, after being charged under terrorism laws with failing to disclose information to the police following the failed 21 July bombings. Shadi Sami Abdel Gadir, 22, Omar Nagmeloin Almagboul, 20, and Mohamed Kabashi, 23, appeared at Horseferry Road magistrates court.
A man and two women charged with the same offences were also remanded in custody.
The Prime Minister, meanwhile, has ordered a government-wide drive to neutralise opposition within the Muslim community to his package of proposed anti-terror measures. The crackdown on individuals, groups and websites considered to support terrorism was attacked yesterday by Hizb ut-Tahrir, a group Mr Blair said he intends to ban. Nasreen Nawas, a spokesman, insisted Hizb ut-Tahrir was non-violent and posed no threat. The ban “has as its aim the curtailment of legitimate Islamic political debate”, he said.
David Hill, Mr Blair’s press secretary, told ministers not on holiday late last week to be ready to help a Home Office-led charm offensive. Hazel Blears, the Policing minister standing in for Charles Clarke, was given a taste of the growing anger when she attended a meeting of Muslim women in Manchester.