- Private meeting of top officers shows challenge of keeping Britons safe
- Half of counter-terror arrests now linked to Islamic State
- 750 Britons have travelled to Syria and Iraq in the past few years
More than 100 suspected jihadis linked to Islamic State are being monitored by police in London, the country’s counter-terrorism chief has revealed, with hundreds more under surveillance nationwide.
Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley told a private meeting of Scotland Yard bosses that there were 118 ‘Syria-related’ live operations under way in the capital alone.
These include monitoring extremists who have trained in the Middle East and returned to Britain, as well as home-grown radicals who may be plotting attacks or raising funds for terrorists.
Suspects linked to IS now account for more than half of counter-terror arrests for the first time, The Mail on Sunday can reveal. Across the country, 183 people have been arrested on suspicion of offences linked to Syria in the past year – the equivalent of one every other day.
The scale of the challenge facing police and intelligence services in keeping Britain safe following the terror attacks in Paris was starkly illustrated yesterday.
In Central London, armed officers were dispatched and Blackfriars Bridge closed to traffic after a suspected stolen car with Belgian numberplates was stopped and three men were arrested.
Police later confirmed there were no terrorist links, but the operation highlighted the heightened state of alertness.
REVELATIONS: Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley
AC Rowley, the national policing lead for counter-terrorism, released the latest figures on ongoing operations at a meeting of the Metropolitan Police’s performance and assurance board on August 4.
He told bosses including Met Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe:
‘The number of live operations [has] increased to 394 for June and SO15 [counter-terror command] are managing 11 of the 15 national priority operations.
Currently 118 operations are Syria-related.’
Scotland Yard explained that such operations include intelligence-gathering and surveillance.
Security chiefs believe as many as 750 Britons have travelled to Syria and Iraq in the past few years to train or fight with IS forces.
While many have been killed in battle or by air strikes – including British executioner Mohammed Emwazi, known as Jihadi John – as many as 450 are thought to have returned home.
Police and security services try to contact everyone who returns from the area in order to establish how much of a threat they pose.
Some will face no further action if it is believed they only went to deliver humanitarian aid. Others will be sent on deradicalisation programmes.
WHERE DID THE TOURISTS GO? NUMBERS AT 'TARGETS' PLUMMET
It is feared that some returning jihadis who have been further radicalised and battle-hardened by their experiences may be planning a terrorist attack in this country using skills they acquired overseas.
They will be monitored more closely by police and the security services, and will be arrested if it is felt there is sufficient evidence to charge them.
Over the 12 months to October, 183 of the 384 counter-terror arrests related to Syria.
Neither the Crown Prosecution Service nor the Home Office would say how many returnees from the country were currently being prosecuted.
Terror aftermath: A crowd silent at Place de la Republique in Paris following last week's attacks. The Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner says the task to prevent similar attacks in the UK is immense
Overall, police say 600 live counter-terrorism operations are underway across the country, around half of which are related to IS.
Scotland Yard said last night: ‘The scale of our effort is illustrated by the large number of ongoing investigative operations, including those relating to Syria.
‘The police are currently investigating hundreds of active cases, involving hundreds more individuals. Many of these investigations will be jointly run with MI5, targeting the most dangerous people and plots.’
At least eight individuals who have travelled to Syria have been jailed for terrorism offences, along with others who have raised money or attempted to reach the war zone.
A further three terror suspects are currently subject to control orders known as Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures.
The most dangerous returnee is considered to be Imran Khawaja, who faked his own death in an attempt to slip back into Britain undetected. The 27-year-old, from West London, spent several months in Syria last year and was pictured posing with severed heads and weapons.
He was arrested at Dover and jailed for 12 years in February.