Iran-backed terrorist cells could be deployed to launch attacks in the UK if the crisis between London and Tehran deepens, intelligence sources have warned.
Among senior intelligence officers, Iran ranks behind only Russia and China as the nation state posing the greatest threat to Britain’s national security and the seizure of the UK-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero will have intensified concerns in MI5 and MI6.
Intelligence agencies believe Iran has organised and funded sleeper terror cells across Europe, including the UK, and could greenlight attacks in response to a conflict in the Gulf.
The cells are operated by radicals linked to Hizbollah, the Lebanese militant group. Counter-terror police disrupted a cell in 2015 that was caught stockpiling tonnes of explosives at businesses on the outskirts of London.
A source said: “Iran has Hizbollah operatives in position to carry out a terrorist attack in the event of a conflict. That is the nature of the domestic threat Iran poses to the UK.”
The row over the seizure of the Stena Impero prompted in-fighting among the Conservative leadership yesterday.
Iain Duncan Smith accused Theresa May of making a “major miscalculation” by turning down an offer from Donald Trump of US protection for British ships in the Gulf. However, Chancellor Philip Hammond insisted the UK had not taken its “eye off the ball” by failing to provide a naval escort for the Stena Impero.
Yesterday, a recording emerged of a radio exchange between Iranian armed forces, the oil tanker and HMS Montrose, a Royal Navy frigate too far away to assist.
An Iranian, speaking broken English, can be heard ordering Stena Impero’s captain to alter course “immediately”, warning him: “If you obey you will be safe.”
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