Britain is the focal point for Islamic terrorism across Europe, and its controversial military campaigns overseas are putting the entire continent at risk, a disturbing new report has warned.
An analysis of the terrorist threat by Europol, the European Police Office, has concluded that the dangers posed by militant groups rose to unprecedented proportions in 2007, with steep increases in the number of arrests, plots and attacks.
But Islamic terrorism, particularly through a rejuvenated al-Qa'ida, was highlighted as the most significant security threat to the authorities in the UK. At least one person is arrested every day across Europe under suspicion of involvement in Islamic terror conspiracies or attacks. Europol warned that the UK was recognised as fertile ground for radical Islamists seeking recruits to their jihadist campaigns, with "young, radicalised British citizens" often used to mount attacks.
The bleak warning came as the Government prepared for a battle over its plans to allow the police to detain terror suspects for up to six weeks without charge.
The EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report revealed there were 203 terror-related arrests in the UK last year, when the danger was demonstrated by abortive attempts to detonate bombs in London and at Glasgow airport in June. Europol said the British figure was 30 per cent up on 2006, with the "vast majority" relating to Islamism; 201 Islamist-related terror arrests were made across the 26 other EU member states.
Europol experts identified the lawless tribal areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan as troublesome, as they hosted training camps for some of the most committed jihadists. But the report also warned of other areas emerging as threats: in Somalia, "dozens" of British passport holders were fighting alongside the Islamists. There are also indications that terrorist training and attack planning, with a focus on the UK, is taking place in Somalia.
British sources said that further attacks on the UK were "highly likely", with the number of terror suspects being monitored rising from 500 to 2,000 since the start of the Iraq War.
The report also warned that British foreign policy presented critical dangers for all Europe: "The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have a large impact on the security environment of the EU."
Professor David Capitanchik, a terrorism expert at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, said: "We certainly face a greater threat, partly because we have such a large immigrant population which is more vulnerable to radical Islamic thinking... We are paying the price of giving political asylum for so long to individuals who were wanted for terrorist-related offences in their own countries."
Europol, which co-ordinates law enforcement information across the EU, warned that al-Qa'ida was stepping up its campaign against Britain and its European allies, after "rebuilding its capabilities". Europol's investigation portrays Europe as a continent under siege, with conspiracies cropping up in a wide range of member states.
A Home Office spokesman confirmed that most of the Europol findings tallied with official figures, and underlined the Government's consistent warnings about the scale of the terror threat facing the nation. But he insisted that the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan had no bearing on the level of the security threat in the UK or in the rest of Europe.
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