The U.S. is apparently not the only country picking up on a possible increased terror threat. In Britain, the threat level is at the “severe end of severe” according to sources who say the level of “chatter” among terrorist cells has increased in recent months.
The security services say they are now operating at full stretch to counter the elevated threat.
Britain’s close relationship with the US has been particularly inflammatory after cross-border raids into Pakistan by American forces.
Security officials had considered downgrading the official threat level from “severe” but that plan has now been abandoned as a result of the increase in terrorist activity.
A senior counter terrorism source said: “We were looking at the threat level six months ago and asking how severe is severe? But it is October now and we are at the severe end of severe.
“Al-Qaeda’s core exists on the Afghan-Pakistan border. The arrangement of people changes at a frighteningly rapid pace but they have enough people to replace them and there are people who are looking at us and at external operations, some at this country in particular.
“We are not chasing shadows. These are potential threats to security and life. Police and the security network are operating at full capacity.”
The source said a review by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, which looks at information from MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, had considered downgrading the threat from “severe,” meaning an attack is highly likely, to “substantial,” meaning an attack is a strong possibility, but that move was abandoned after the level of activity increased.
The assessment, which has five levels, has been considered severe since the arrest of the men allegedly plotting to attack transatlantic airliners in 2006 but moved up to “critical,” meaning an attack is imminent, during last year’s car bomb alert which led to the attack on Glasgow airport.
It is now only just below that level.
MI5 is watching around 200 networks across Britain and MI6 and GCHQ are constantly monitoring communications on the crucial Afghan-Pakistan border area.
Although key commanders have been killed in air strikes, one of the particular concerns is the disappearance of Rashid Rauf from Birmingham, an alleged al-Qaeda mastermind who escaped from Pakistani custody last December.
Security officials are also worried about threats which may come from off the radar.
They are particularly worried by lone operators who “self-radicalise” over the internet and stock-pile chemicals from domestic sources.
“They are discreet from traditional networks and have a very small intelligence signature which makes them hard to pick up,” the source said.