MI5 chief says Iraq war is driving British Muslims into terrorism

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British Muslims have been driven towards extremism and terrorist acts because of the UK's part in the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the head of MI5.

Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller's warning of the violent threat from more than 1,600 suspects in 200 groups lasting more than a generation, was backed yesterday by Tony Blair.

Dame Eliza stated, however, that the Government's policy had directly contributed to attacks in this country. She said: "My service needs to understand the motivations behind terrorism to succeed in countering it. The video wills of British suicide bombers make it clear they are motivated by perceived worldwide and long-standing injustices against Muslims; an extreme and minority interpretation of Islam promoted by some preachers and people of influence; and their interpretation as anti-Muslim of UK foreign policy, in particular in Iraq and Afghanistan. Killing oneself and others in response is an attractive option for some citizens of this country and others around the world."

According to senior intelligence sources, the upsurge in terrorist recruitment was caused not by the Afghan war but by the conflict in Iraq. "Iraq was seen as more unjustified, more an example of Western, British and American, perfidy," said one source.

Dame Eliza claimed her service was aware of about 30 plots to " kill people and to damage our economy".

Mr Blair said yesterday: "I have been saying for several years that this terror threat is very real. It has been building up over a long period of time.

"I think [Dame Eliza] is absolutely right that it will last a generation. It's a very long and deep struggle but we have to stand up and be counted for what we believe in and take the fight to those people who want to entice young people into something wicked and violent but utterly futile."

"This is a threat that has grown up over a generation. In the end, the values we have and hold dear in this country are the values that will defeat those values of hatred, division and sectarianism."

A Muslim Labour peer, Baroness Uddin, said she was concerned about Dame Eliza entering the "political arena". She said: "It seems that the Muslim community cannot remain out of the press for long before yet another indictment on the whole community.

"I hope that what she is saying is truly because she needs the assistance of the community in addressing this issue. I am not very happy with the fact someone in her position would up the ante in the terror threat although obviously there is a deep concern.

"Raising this kind of question in the public arena seemed incredibly political.

"I hope that it is not political and I hope that it is not trying to make the assertion that there are cells all over the place, almost giving the impression that ordinary communities are hiding these kinds of cells."

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "This is why the Government should be taking practical and effective measures to help us in the fight against terrorism, such as a single, dedicated border police, appointing a single minister to co-ordinate our security efforts, and allowing the use of intercept evidence in terror trials.

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "These revelations underline the gravity of the threat we all face. The effect of our foreign and domestic policies ... now requires constant vigilance".

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