Britain’s terror threat level has been lowered from “severe” to “substantial” for the first time in five years.
Sky’s defence and security correspondent Alastair Bunkall explains why the officials who moved it must remain vigilant.
The killing of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi has removed a figure head from the top of Islamic State, but the decision to lower the threat level was taken before his killing.
The wider picture is that IS has lost its territory, its effective cyber recruitment arm and much of its ability to launch or inspire attacks in Britain.
Its final stand, in the Syrian city of Baghouz, killed hundreds of foreign fighters – the very fighters who might have otherwise tried to return to Europe and launch attacks.
The group remains a threat, as does Al Qaeda, but not in the way it was. The decision was taken by JTAC – the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre – an independent, apolitical body.
Made up of representatives from sixteen departments across Whitehall, they routinely review the latest intelligence and meet formally twice a year, although they can come together at short notice if needed.
I should stress that JTAC doesn’t answer to Downing Street – this might be convenient timing for Boris Johnson but it cannot be connected to the upcoming election.
Practically, nothing will change now that it has been downgraded to “substantial”
MI5 and counter-terror police are still investigating around 800 ongoing terror investigations and they will continue to work on those with the same tempo and attention.
It is good news, of course, that the threat level is lower – but we mustn’t forget that it stills means an attack is ‘likely’.
Current events in Syria, which have resulted in the escape of more than a thousand IS prisoners, are worrying. So too are the continuing protests centred on Baghdad – Islamic State first grew out of instability in Iraq.
Either of those events could increase the threat to the UK – Islamist-inspired terrorism has not gone away.
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